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British National Health Service Crippled by Privatization & Austerity Funding

A NY Times opinion video lays it out vividly: The British NHS is an adored public institution, now 75 years old. In recent years it has stumbled … sabotaged by UK leaders who starve budgets and foster ill-advised private initiatives.

December 8, 2023

How Britain Put One of the World’s Best Health Care Systems on Life Support
Video Op-Ed (7 minutes)
in YouTube here
New York Times
December 7, 2023
by Adam Westbrook

No excerpt – watch the video!

[HJM spoiler: privatization and under-funding!]

Comment by: Jim Kahn

This excellent opinion video uses seven minutes to concisely, vividly, and powerfully capture the causes of NHS collapse: privatization and under-funding. Both Labor and especially Tory leaders starve the beloved NHS in favor of ill-conceived expensive privatization schemes often involving US corporations. A national treasure has been pushed into crisis by politicians beholden to for-profit interests. Brexit amplified the problems by lowering access to health professionals.

Although I commend the NY Times for offering this impressive opinion video, I must take it to task for obscuring the video’s main point in the written introduction. The video clearly highlights that NHS problems derive from privatization and under-funding. Yet, the introduction does not highlight, or even mention, those issues. Indeed it implies that privatization could be part of the solution. “[A] s the Opinion video above argues, [the] NHS is in jeopardy owing to mismanagement by British politicians. The system was founded in 1948 to provide free health care to all residents and has proudly stood as a much-loved symbol of British identity and the welfare state. The [recent operating] crisis has led to calls for Britain to scrap universal health care and return to a private or hybrid health system, like in the United States and other European countries. But as the Opinion video argues, the NHS woes are not a function of how it’s funded but the result of something else entirely.” Umm, why so obscure?

Why not state outright that privatization and intentional austerity budgets are the core problems, as convincingly portrayed by the video? The US is certainly not worth emulating, and successful health insurance in other wealthy countries reflects the public commitment to universal standard insurance. A normal op-ed introduction echoes the op-ed’s key points, so why coy here?

Happily, the video speaks for itself, eloquently. Share it widely!

Comment by: Don McCanne

The lesson is extremely important for single payer proponents. Conservatives profess that competition in private markets is the key to success in health care and that governments, as in single payer or a national health service, would destroy the functioning of the health care system. This video shows that one of the finest health care systems in the world, the government-run British NHS, has been crippled by converting it to a private, market-driven system, the exact opposite of what the conservatives are preaching.

Thus when the conservatives say that we can’t have single payer because we have to keep the government out, we can use the video to answer that we must have the government in control, and the conservatives have to keep their private market from controlling our health care.

We should distribute the link to this video widely so that people can understand that in the real world, the private market is destructive to health care and that we need a well designed, government-funded, government-administered single payer system.

Remember, it was John McCain, a Republican, who gave a thumbs down to prevent repeal of a government health care program: Obamacare. We can all join together to get universal health care done with a system proven to be effective: single payer.

About the Commentator, Jim Kahn

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Jim (James G.) Kahn, MD, MPH (editor) is an Emeritus Professor of Health Policy, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on the cost and effectiveness of prevention and treatment interventions in low and middle income countries, and on single payer economics in the U.S. He has studied, advocated, and educated on single payer since the 1994 campaign for Prop 186 in California, including two years as chair of Physicians for a National Health Program California.

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