Something to be proud of

For reasons I’ve never quite managed to understand, the Government occasionally gets it into its collective hive mind that it is not enough for us all to merely be British, but that we should also be immensely proud of that small fact. To help us achieve this, they like to try and work out what traits make us British so that we can all direct our pride towards displaying these characteristics.
Of course, it is incredibly difficult to define the British national character. For a start, there is no such country as Britain. Britain is more a designation. It’s something to write on the international documents to help the rest of the world who are not entirely au fait with the ins and outs of the home nations. With so many Brits confused about how Britain functions, it seems a little unfair to expect Johnny Foreigner to be aware of our slightly odd way of doing things. As an example, hands up everybody south of Carlisle who fully understands the differences between English and Scottish bank notes. You see?

Sometimes these differences can be inadvertently helpful. The only reason there isn’t a diplomatic incident happening about the possible release of the Lockerbie bomber (on compassionate grounds) is because the decision lies in the hands of the Scots and America has no idea where Scotland is. Even as you read this there is a room of sweating foreign policy advisors frantically checking Wikipedia to find out.

Eventually, it is concluded by some wag that not being proud of being British is, in fact, our sole uniting characteristic. Flags are waved, orchestras launch into Pomp and Circumstance and Parliament comes back into session so we can all get back to occupying ourselves with proper news.

I’ve said before that the only time a Brit will consider themselves to be British is when the English, Scots and Welsh unite against a common irritant. Happily, last week we were given such an irritant and I have never seen a country so united. Thanks are due to the American Right.
As I don’t follow American home affairs as closely as some, my time being otherwise occupied by British politics, Irish politics, EU politics and Coronation Street, you shall have to go elsewhere for an explanation of what Mr Obama has planned for the American healthcare system. All I know is that, for some reason, the people who are not Mr Obama are rather unhappy about it and have been spouting forth lies about the NHS and implying we are all communists.

In the UK, when you are ill, you phone the doctor. If you are lucky you will get an appointment within the next three weeks. Your doctor will see you, sigh, imply you are wasting his time and tell you that if you stay at home and drink plenty of fluids your Ebola will clear up by itself. Grudgingly he will write you a prescription which you will take to the chemist where you will have to stand in line behind 19 OAPs who all want to tell the Pharmacist about their corns in a very loud voice. At the moment you feel most nauseous, one of them will hitch up their skirt to show the Pharmacist their varicose veins and dripping leg ulcer. If it is pension day and there are more than 19 of them in there, somebody else will step forwards with their hands on the hemline and the words “call that dripping…?” If you accidentally make eye contact with any of men at this point, they will offer to show you their shrapnel wounds from the war.
You may, by this point, be thinking that the American right has a point. It sounds terrible. Actually, it isn’t.

There are, admittedly, many areas in which the NHS must try harder. Breast cancer survival rates for instance (The figures the American Right has been spouting are amusingly wrong, the accurate figures are worse.). Mental health care and drug rehabilitation are others.

However. What the NHS does brilliantly is emergency care. If I get run over on a visit to Cardiff, when I get taken to the hospital I know I am going to receive the best care available. Nobody is going to be checking my credit history or insurance details to decide my treatment, I will receive what is necessary to save my life.
Some years ago I carelessly managed to break my spine in three places. My legs still work fine. Score one to the NHS.
When Mammy had unstable angina and was rushed to hospital, she was immediately referred to one of the country’s top surgeons. She was given the necessary operation at the soonest opportunity in the Royal Cromwell in London. It was a complex procedure and the consultant felt it would be better done there as the teams and equipment were ready if necessary. He now uses her as a teaching case for his students. Score two to the NHS.
When He Who Knows Everything split his head open on a chair last October, he shuffled into Wexford A&E, bleeding profusely, only to be met with a demand for €60 before he could be treated. Score 5 billion to the NHS for being free.

This, really, is the key. Free healthcare for everybody means I don’t need to be afraid of becoming ill. With NHS direct, I don’t even need to be afraid of wasting my GPs time. Sure, if I have something trivial, I will sit on a waiting list for months waiting to be seen. It’s irritating but I always have the option of paying for it myself if I am desperate to have it looked at sooner.
Here in Ireland, a private appointment can take 6 months to come through and, very often, you will still get treated in the public hospitals. Even when you have insurance, any medical procedure will cost you money because the hospital puts anything it thinks it can get away with onto the bill. When Mammy saw a specialist eye doctor, she was rather surprised to receive a bill from the insurance company requesting she pay the surplus for the cost of her hospital room, particularly as she hadn’t had a room. On enquiry, the result came back that one is charged for a room whether or not one actually physically has a room because it is assumed a room is had, otherwise, how would one get treated, eh? And anyway, if you don’t have a room, the room charge is put towards our cost of keeping the broken vending machines extra shiny.

The NHS is the best thing Britain has produced and I would say that even if it wasn’t created by a Welsh man. The idea that we have Death Panels or that “if Stephen Hawking had been born in the UK he would have been left to die” (which is my favourite lie of all of them, it’s untrue in so many ways), are ridiculous. Can you really take the word of people who are so ignorant they only refer to England and the English NHS (And not because they are aware of NHS Wales’s natural superiority)?
Yes, whenever a new drug is developed it will be subjected to a cost efficiency analysis before it is made available. Yes, there is a postcode lottery and not all treatment is available nationwide. Yes, discretion is applied in cases where the doctors judge there to be little potential improvement in quality of life, such as in the very old or the very premature. The NHS has limited funds. These decisions have to be made to ensure that when you are brought in from your road traffic accident, the funds were there to buy the emergency treatment you need.
When you look at the American system the right are so keen to defend, is it really that great? Would you still think so if you were one of the sick people who had their policies cancelled by the insurance company who was having a bad financial year?

Be proud of the NHS. It isn’t perfect, but it is ours and it is a site better than any alternative I’ve experienced.

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