UK uproar over US Republican views on NHS

Heat from the burning issue of healthcare reforms in the USA has crossed the Atlantic and is scorching the British public. Could their massive support for their NHS, which has filled Twitter by the minute, help to douse US concepts? Brenda Marsh reports from London

Attacks on President Barack Obama’s US healthcare reforms prompted criticism that he is too influenced by the UK, and stirred fears of ‘socialism’. After some Republican politicians slated Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is ‘Orwellian’ and ‘downright evil’ (the latter attributed to Republican former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin), even Prime Minister Gordon Brown added his views to a welovethenhs campaign, which is running on Twitter, a popular social networking and microblogging service utilising instant messaging, SMS or a web interface.
Along with millions of British citizens who have logged in their NHS support and reasons for that, PM Brown wrote that the country’s 60-year-old NHS ‘… often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there,’ he wrote. His wife, Sarah Brown, added: ‘welovethenhs more than words can say’.
Claims in a US newspaper Investor’s Business Daily that someone like scientist Stephen Hawking ‘…wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the NHS would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless’, were immediately refuted by the physicist when in Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the USA’s highest civilian honour. ‘I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS,’ said Prof Hawking, who has suffered a neurogenerative disease for 40 years. ‘I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived,’ he pointed out. (The professor’s most recent NHS care was in April).
The British Medical Association (BMA), which also added its support to the welovethenhs campaign, welcomed the defence of the NHS by both leading Labour and Conservative politicians, and described US criticisms as ‘dishonest attacks from the American pro-market lobby’. Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, called on the British politicians to abandon pro-market policies, warning that they are undermining the core values of the NHS. ‘It’s ironic that both Labour and the Conservatives are pursuing policies that are moving us slowly towards an American style system,’ he said. ‘If they really love the NHS, they should stop encouraging private companies to profit from it. It’s not too late for our politicians to acknowledge that private provision of NHS services has wasted huge amounts of taxpayers’ money. I believe the party leaders are genuine when they say they are really proud of the work of NHS staff. But they should let them get on with providing healthcare, and stop forcing them to compete with each other, or with private companies. They should listen to what doctors and nurses are saying and, as a start, ditch private management consultants from the NHS.’
The NHS (the 2nd biggest employer in Europe) is not perfect, he added, ‘We must always seek to improve it and should not be afraid to learn from others. But the market-style philosophy of the US is a lesson we could do well without.’
Further aggravation came when a Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, continued his on-going attack on the NHS by stating, on the US TV: ‘I find it incredible that a free people living in a country dedicated and founded in the cause of independence and freedom can seriously be thinking about adopting such a system.’ This led to a rebuke from his own political party: Conservative officials said he had done the NHS a ‘disservice’ by giving Americans ‘such a negative and partial view’.
‘I support the NHS 100% and the Conservative Party supports the NHS 100%,’ said Conservative party leader David Cameron, who has pledged to protect the NHS from public spending cuts. The NHS, he said, ‘is incredibly important to my family’ and ‘incredibly important to this country’. If he becomes Prime Minister, he added, he would ‘…work to improve it and ensure it is there for everyone in Britain’.

01.09.2009

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