Blog | Thursday, February 23, 2017

3 pretty awesome things about the UK's National Health Service

Recently, I've been writing a lot about health care systems around the world and thinking about what an ideal system for America would look like. I've enjoyed reading the online responses—healthy debate is indeed a wonderful thing. I've said previously how out of all the systems I've experienced, the ideal probably resides somewhere in-between a completely socialized system and a private, free-market-insurance-based one. Australia comes pretty close to doing this, by encouraging people to buy their own insurance, but also having a public backup for those who need it. Despite growing up with the UK's National Health Service, and admiring it on many different levels, the fact remains that no other country in the world has copied this heavily centralized system. Yet, I can't say by any stretch of the imagination that it's not a hugely noble and fair concept with humanistic ideals. Lots of my closest family and friends rely on it and are very happy with their service. Here are 3 amazing things about the NHS:
1. No bills and no stress over expenses
No British citizen has to worry about ever seeing a medical bill or dealing with out-of-pocket costs. Emergency care is excellent and most urgent matters are dealt with in a timely manner. Those things that do incur charges, such as certain prescriptions, are capped at a very low level with plenty of exemptions. The majority of UK citizens would gladly sacrifice choice and put up with some waiting for non-urgent care, to keep this system in place.
2. Great selfless doctors
Doctors in the United Kingdom are among the most hard-working in the world and rarely choose a medical specialty because of how much they will earn (there's not much variation between what medical specialists are paid anyway). Granted, they have relatively low student debt (although that is changing), but are generally much more conservative and inclined to only do what's absolutely necessary. As a patient, you will never have the thought in your mind that your doctor is ordering a test or recommending a procedure because they want to make more money.
3. Fosters a sense of society
The fact that most of the British public sees their NHS as a national treasure, also reflects something else that is very different on both sides of the pond. In the UK, there is more of a concept of “society”, which naturally comes about in socialized systems. People in Britain generally have a feeling of “we are all in it together”, especially when it comes to the health service. Since its founding, America has generally been a more individualistic society which encourages freedom, choice and personal responsibility. The collective consumerist psyche in the United States would unlikely endear itself to socialized medicine anyway (and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, but merely stating an observation).

Every health care system in the world is currently facing its share of challenges due to a combination of expensive new treatments and aging populations. The NHS also has huge problems with physician and nurse shortages, low physician morale due to contractual disputes, and excessively long wait times for certain illnesses. But it would be disingenuous to suggest that it's all bad and anything other than the reality that many socialized health care systems are respected and loved by millions of their citizens. Can we really say the same here in the United States?

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care. This post originally appeared at his blog.