Growing up in the UK meant I took certain things for granted. The fact that my mother tongue was the universal language was one. The freedom to move around Europe was another (a topic for a future blog perhaps). But the aspect of my life in the UK which I didn’t even consider remotely extraordinary or unusual was the ability to visit my local GP or hospital at any time and receive free, high-quality medical treatment.
The National Health Service. The NHS. Founded in 1948, it is the world’s largest publicly funded health service. As a child, if ever I was sick or injured (a rare occurrence, admittedly), my parents were able to take me down to the doctor’s office and treatment was administered, free of charge. It was as simple as that. It wasn’t until I began to travel and meet people who lived in other countries that I realised just what a wonderful amenity the NHS is and will hopefully continue to be.
And it isn’t because the UK is a developed country. It was being friends with Americans which made me really think about just how lucky the UK is. Yes, we pay our taxes to contribute toward this expansive health care system. But those few thousands of pounds are a small price to pay for, potentially, an unlimited number of doctor’s visits in our lifetimes. In America, when someone gets ill, insurance companies will do anything not to pay out. Recently, my friend’s father was diagnosed with stage four cancer in his neck and head. The insurance company paid for surgery to remove the lymph nodes but refused to cover a prothesis which would allow him to eat and speak normally after the removal of a significant proportion of his pallet. Over $10,000 was fundraised by his friends and family all over the world to pay for what the insurance company claimed was a cosmetic device. A nose-job is cosmetic Breast enlargement is cosmetic. Eating and speaking normally however? That’s just a basic human right.
America now proudly boasts Obamacare after the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. I didn’t really know what this was until I did some research for this blog. Basically, it’s affordable health insurance. Employers are encouraged to cover their employees and there are fines for those who don’t. Employees usually pay into this insurance scheme out of their wages so it’s not free: yes, they’re usually covered when they get sick but they’ve still paid for the privilege of being treated. USA Government insurance is expanding, but still only covers 33% of the population; predominantly the elderly. And just under one in ten Americans are still uninsured. That’s 30,000,000 people. What happens when they get ill?
In Cambodia, life is cheap. Road traffic accidents kill six people per day. It’s not usually the crash itself which kills people; it’s the slow ambulance response times, poorly trained medical professionals, and a lack of funds to pay for treatment. Last month, a friend of mine got into a moto accident. His foot was crushed by the oncoming moto and by the time he got to hospital and was seen by a doctor (close to 12 hours later), they were unsure whether they were going to be able to save his foot. They needed to operate. Immediately. Well, as soon as the doctors were paid $2,000. So my friend lay in a hospital bed, dosed up on morphine, surrounded by worried friends and family who suddenly had to find the money to prevent an amputation. Luckily, they were able to do so and my friend is now recovering well. Another online fundraising campaign raised $6,000 towards the total $9,000 cost of the treatment. The moto accident was not his fault. The driver of the other moto ran off.
Neither of these fundraising examples should have had to happen. Everyone deserves two feet. Everyone deserves to be able to eat and speak. Everyone deserves to live, come to that. Urgent, necessary medical treatment should not be money-dependent. Just because someone is poor or their insurance company is devoid of any morals or human decency, doesn’t mean their life has less value nor do they deserve a lower-quality of doctor.
I regularly see crowd-funding links shared by my Cambodian and American friends to pay for medical bills for themselves or family members. Health care is a basic human right, a principal behind the founding of the NHS. I understand that the costs of running such a service are colossal and I appreciate that some people don’t like to pay taxes. But you know what I don’t like? The fact that every day thousands of impoverished people die from preventable, treatable diseases because they cannot afford to seek medical help. It’s 2016; the world has moved on from the time of emperors and slaves, lords and serfs, we’re supposed to be living in a time of equal opportunity. And yet the most important thing in our lives, our health, still comes with a price tag in many countries.
The NHS has three core principles:
- that it meet the needs of everyone
- that it be free at the point of delivery
- that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay
Sounds good, right? Yeah, people should be able to receive treatment for medical issues, regardless of their, let’s be honest, financial status. Sickness and accidents don’t differentiate between rich and poor. Cancer doesn’t choose its victims based on their bank statements. Lorry drivers don’t fall asleep at the wheel and only plough into the back of Rolls Royces and Bentleys. It can happen to anyone. It does happen to anyone. And everyone should be entitled to the medical facilities which can make them better again.
The NHS isn’t perfect, I get that. But consider the alternative. Without a public health care service, medical treatment becomes a luxury many can’t afford and that’s not fair. Let’s not allow the UK to succumb to the pressure of the private sector. The government cuts are chipping away at the services piece by piece. Doctors and nurses feel undervalued and I can imagine the temptation they feel towards moving into private practice, even if they believe in the concept of free health care. Let’s fight for our NHS and keep this life-saving, admirable, honourable, and proud institution open, well-funded, and supported for future generations.