Sunday, 3 July 2011

Who needs the NHS when you've got prison?

Time to shine a little light into some obscurity. Deserved obscurity, perhaps, in at least one case, but that’s no reason not to illuminate it a little.

Ever heard of Daniel Hannan? Well, why should you. He’s a British Conservative Member of the European Parliament. Being an MEP wonderfully illustrates how you can hold a prominent position without leaving a trace in the public consciousness.

Hannan did, however, have a moment of fame, if that’s the word, back in 2009 when he intervened in the US debate over healthcare. He assured Americans that he would not wish the NHS on anyone and described it as a ‘sixty-year mistake’. All this was part of a campaign against ‘socialised medicine’, apparently the thin of the wedge leading to the overthrow of all we hold dear.

Now Hannan isn’t totally wrong in all things. He’s a great admirer of the Singapore healthcare system, which costs about half of Britain’s as a proportion of national income, and delivers results which, according to some authorities, are at least as good. There really may be something worth looking into there.

Nor can anyone seriously claim that the NHS is without blemishes. The sixty-year history of the institution is littered with horror stories of patients allowed to suffer or even die through neglect, of the wrong leg being amputated, even of the wrong kidney being cut out (the patient in that case, left with only his failing kidney, paid for the surgeons’ error with his life). But I don’t know of a healthcare system anywhere that doesn’t have its tales of incompetence to make your blood run cold, and generally the NHS is at least pretty good at being there when you need it and doing a reasonable job, all things considered, at getting you better.

While the NHS may cost twice as much as Singapore’s healthcare system, it costs around two-thirds of Germany’s or France’s and little over half the US’s. Since it does actually guarantee care of some kind to anybody who needs it, it strikes me as inappropriate to describe it as a ‘sixty-year failure’ in the US, which spends so much and famously fails to meet that standard.

The other relatively obscure individual who caught my attention recently is James Verone. Not heard of him either? He’s a 59-year old with a string of ailments which may or may not be serious – he doesn’t know because he can’t get them diagnosed, let alone treated. A couple of weeks ago, he went into a bank in the North Carolina town of Gastonia and pushed a note across the counter instructing the teller to hand over exactly one dollar. He then went and sat quietly to await the arrival of the police.

James Verone:
exploring novel ways of accessing healthcare
His calculation? If he could pick up a jail sentence, he would get healthcare while inside and, if the sentence lasted at least three years, he would have cover after his release too.

His biggest problem? Because he took so little and didn’t use a weapon, he may not get anything like the sentence he needs. In the meantime, he’s been very happy to refuse bail because, while he’s on remand awaiting trial, he’ll get medical treatment.

The comments on Versone’s case are so obvious that it’s superfluous to make them.

Daniel Hannan’s view, on the other hand, might be amusing to read.

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