Monday, August 17, 2009

NHS rules, OK?

Until I joined SL, I swallowed quite a lot of the propaganda about American Healthcare. OK, so if you were poor or suffered from a chronic illness or had no insurance, it was possible to lose your house and your everything in trying to afford healthcare, but for those who have insurance, it's the best in the world, isn't it?

Contact with real people in the virtual world has disabused me of that notion. While I have the option to sign up with any of the local GPs, my friends in the US can only sign up with the family doctors who are approved by their insurance company. When my GP decides I need to be referred to a consultant at a hospital, I can veto the local hospital and choose one which suits me. They are stuck with the approved list again.

Only rich people access the best of American healthcare... and they have to be very rich not to need to count the cost if they need intensive care or ong stays in hospital.

At the other end of the scale, I have friends in SL whose grandchildren can't even afford the diagnostic tests, let alone the treatment, for hormonal disorders, and another who suspects that their GP refuses to refer them to hospital at all, because they prefer to collect the fee for seeing and treating her themselves.

Any health system has its good and bad points, but one of the most impressive in the NHS is that healthcare is universally available to all, separate from your ability to pay for it. When my son was prescribed a liquid diet for six weeks, I didn't have to worry about how I was going to find the £15-£20 a day that would have cost me if I had been paying for it. I was provided with the liquid.

My family have had good and bad experiences at the hands of the NHS, and I would imagine that this is true for any healthcare system. Medical science isn't a science at all, but an art, and a dark art at that. Many of the people who die every year in both healthcare systems will die as the result of treatment, or reactions to treatment, or inappropriate care. Estimates about the number of "unnecessary" deaths varies, but I wouldn't expect it to be much different, despite the differences in the way the systems are run.

What our system has in favour of it, is that there will be no unnecessary deaths outside the system, because patients were too poor to afford a treatment that could save their life. And that's a big thing, a great thing, and something worth celebrating.

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