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  • Strikes and Rationing Hobble Health Care in Great Britain

    Great Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) is often touted by Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, and young voters — basically people with no medical training or experience — as a model the United States should follow when it comes to health care. They like the idea of the government giving every citizen “free” health care, but have no idea what the true cost such a system actually inflicts upon society.

    Just last week, we found how deep the rot in the NHS goes. Great Britain’s single-payer health insurance system is in deep trouble as junior doctors, unhappy with their pay, went on strike and threatened to walk-off their jobs a further 15 days between now and Christmas; it also banned obese people and smokers from routine surgery.

    One of the big problems with the government taking over and provisioning important things like health care is it crowds out and often eliminates competition from the private sector, thus limiting choice, innovation and lower prices. Also, by making medical doctors state employees, the government gives them the right to unionize and strike if they don’t get what they want in their labor contracts.

    For instance, junior doctors, already on strike due to low pay and bad working conditions, announced a further 15 days of strikes ahead of a controversial new contract due to begin in October.

    Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told The Daily Mail the walkouts would see 100,000 operations and around one million appointments affected, and described it as

    “a devastating strike, the like of which the NHS has never seen before.”

    Ellen McCourt, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee, told The Guardian the proposed changes risked pushing the service to the breaking point.

    She continued:

    “The biggest risk with this contract, and also with this dispute continuing, is that doctors will leave the NHS. You can’t stretch us more thinly. There needs to be a plan – how are we going to make medicine more attractive to people? How are we going to make people stay in the NHS?”

    Another big problem with single-payer health insurance systems like the NHS in Great Britain is there is not an infinite supply of money, medical personnel or hospital beds. Capitation and rationing are inevitable so the bureaucracy limits or denies treatment, and lines people up in queues until they either die or seek treatment elsewhere, the way elderly Ontarians seek treatment across the border in Michigan.

    In fact, the finances of the NHS have gotten so bad it announced last week it would deny surgery to smokers and obese people.

    The Royal College of Surgeons described the situation to The Independent as “the most severe the modern NHS has ever seen” amid concerns the NHS’ funding crisis is seriously impeding its ability to function.

    Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, told The Daily Telegraph:

    “I think we are going to see more and more decisions like this. It’s the only way providers are going to be able to balance their books, and in a way you have to applaud their honesty.”

    “You can see why they’re doing this – the service is bursting at the seams.”

    The fallout, say critics, is some patients will needlessly suffer prolonged pain because the move is motivated by desire to save money, instead of patient safety, because the NHS overspent by £2.45bn (US$3.26 billion) in 2015-16.

    This is the sad reality of health care in Great Britain today. Because when the government provisions health care, bureaucrats, not medically trained doctors, decide who gets treated, what treatment you will get, and when you will get it.


    Kenneth Artz

    Kenneth Artz

    Kenneth Artz is a news reporter for The Heartland Institute, covering health care, energy and the environment, education, and budget & tax news. He has over 20 years’ experience in nonprofit organizations, publishing, newspaper reporting, and public policy advocacy, and has worked as a newspaper reporter for several papers in Texas, and as a writer/editor for the National Center for Policy Analysis.

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