I’m going to tell you a story. It’s not an argument, it’s certainly not a statistic, it’s just a thing that happened.
About two and a half years ago, right before Christmas, my father fell out of a tree, into a river, and broke his spine.
My father is fine now. Were it not for a few visible pieces of metal in his back (which he’ll happily show off to you) and the fact that he went from being an inch taller than me to an inch shorter than me (which he’ll vehemently contest every time you mention) you’d never be able to tell it happened. But were it not for every single thing going right from that point and the incredible care he received over the subsequent weeks, he would be dead or paralysed.
I could tell you that the NHS saved my father’s life. It would be true, and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for it, but it would also be somewhat missing the point.
I got back from a family reunion in the states about a week and a half ago. One of the themes of this reunion could be quite legitimately summed as “Hurray! None of us are dead yet!”. We’ve had more than our fair share of near fatal medical experiences on both sides of the pond, and everyone has come through ok. America and Britain both have amazing doctors.
This is probably the point at which you expect me to give a sob story about bankruptcy resulting from one of these medical conditions in the states. Fortunately not. As far as I know (certainly I’ve not heard anything to the contrary), everyone over there was suitably covered.
Perhaps then I should tell you that if my father were over there he would be bankrupted?
Actually, again, no. My father has private health insurance.
Yes, really. His employer provides it. It’s a very American setup.
You see, we may have this big scary seeming socialist monster of the NHS, but it’s not like we don’t have private healthcare too. It’s not even very expensive – I think I could probably get private care for about £100/month, without any employer subsidy, if I wanted it. I used to be covered by my father’s insurance when I was younger. It was very convenient for fast tracking things that would have had a longer wait on the NHS, and I generally received good care on it (I’d describe it as about as good as the NHS care I received but slightly more personalised), but I don’t think I needed to use it more than a handful of times.
So, why isn’t this a story about the great private healthcare my dad got in the UK? Simple: When my mother told the hospital that they had private health insurance, they shut the idea down flat. If he’d gone to a private hospital here, they wouldn’t have known what to do with him. For top end critical care in the UK, you use the NHS. It has the best emergency services, it has the best facilities, it has the best doctors. If you need medical care and you need it right now, you go to the NHS.