It is days like this that remind you why so many on the right were in the “yes” campaign during the Euro referendum of 1975. It was then to the right of Britain on many issues and still is on the issue of healthcare provision. The European Commission will today propose to give Brits the right to escape NHS waiting lists by going anywhere in Europe – and then have the NHS repay their bill and expenses. So lo, from Brussels, a massive threat to the ‘socialism in one country’ approach of the NHS. Its “business” model has always depended on there being no competition.
The Labour left is angry about the rich escaping the NHS system by private insurance so you’d think they’d welcome the chance for the poor to do so as well. But no, they say this European plan threatens the foundations of their beloved NHS. I’d like to hear someone explain that to a patient. “Sorry Mrs Dickson, you’ll have to wait in agony for another year but your sacrifice helps protect the ideological integrity of the NHS”. It is a cause they are prepared for others to die for.
Now, why would anyone want to go abroad? After all, Britain now spends more on health than the average European nation. But patients are turfed out of hospital beds here before anyone else in Europe (3.5 days). They’re three times as likely to get MRSA from filthy wards. And that’s not considering the health rationing system, which gives waiting times which simply don’t exist in much of Europe. I don’t know, but suspect, that Britain is the only European country where MRSA-resistant pyjamas are for sale on the high street.
On Today, Nigel Edwards from the NHS Confederation predicted without any sense of embarrassment that few would come from Europe to Britain and added – almost with a hint of pride - that “UK healthcare is relatively expensive”. Might that be because it it’s grotesquely inefficient?
And if anything does come of this, then Britain owed a big thank-you to a 72-year-old grandmother named Yvonne Watts who took the NHS to court and established this legal precedent.
PS John Humphrys said “Queues were much shorter than when Conservatives were in power, waiting lists have come down a great deal”. He’s right: the length of the queue is down 40% - but progress is far from uniform. In March 94 (the earliest date the Department of Health claims figures are available for) the median outpatient waiting time was 5.4 weeks. In March 2000 it peaked at 7.7 weeks falling back to 5.4 weeks in December 2006.