PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland -- Each visit to the U.K. brings new horror stories about the National Health Service (NHS).
Last month, Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, issued a forensic report, commissioned by the government, which found that 14 underperforming hospitals in England had substandard care, contributing to the needless deaths of nearly 13,000 people since 2005. Earlier this year, it was reported that a single hospital in Staffordshire recorded 1,400 "excess" deaths.
Following the July report, letters from patients and relatives of those who died flooded in to newspapers, Sky News and the BBC. Many confirmed poor treatment, if in fact they or their loved ones were able to receive timely care at all. The lack of adequate nursing staff, cuts to elder care budgets and a rise in immigrant populations are a few of the factors that have exacerbated the problem.
One letter from Grace Nutt to the Sky News web page is typical: "I am not surprised at the report at all. In fact the scandal has been going on for longer than the (period from) 2005 the report covers. My daughter was stillborn at Basildon Hospital in 1986. I was ten days overdue and very, very big, and in a lot of distress but was told go home and come back tomorrow; we don't have enough beds. During the night my daughter died. The nurse even told me she could hear the heartbeat the following day. I told her she couldn't and it was confirmed by the doctor. The lack of care has been going on for much longer than stated. I am distressed that I did not at the time take the case further and sue, but it's too late now. I hope everyone in similar circumstances makes them pay. D--n you Basildon Hospital."
Waiting times for many surgeries in the U.K. are notoriously long, but recently have grown longer. The Huffington Post UK reports that, according to the NHS's own data, close to 3 million people "were waiting to begin NHS treatment at the end of June, following a referral by their GP." That represents an increase of 240,000 people from the same month last year. The NHS target for treatment following a referral is 18 weeks. The data show 91.7 percent of patients are "seen" within 18 weeks, but being seen and getting surgery or treatment are not the same. After the first appointment, patients often get in another line. Some wait additional weeks or months until a surgeon becomes available. Some die while waiting.
The Daily Telegraph reports the entire system "could collapse within a year without major changes and extra money. Senior doctors likened A-and-E units (accident and emergency) to 'warzones' in May, with medics fighting a losing battle to cope with an increasing tide of patients, while the head of the NHS watchdog said the system had become 'out of control.'"
This is what happens when big, lumbering, inefficient government seeks to provide health care. Why should the U.K.'s horrid experience with NHS matter to Americans? Because if, in a much smaller country, these and other horror stories abound, how much worse could it be when our big, lumbering, inefficient government launches Obamacare? What impact will it have on U.S. hospitals and health care providers? Instead of merely mandating insurance coverage to the uninsured, will our government eventually begin dictating what surgeries and treatments it will pay for based on what a bureaucrat deems cost-effective? It's only a short step from overseeing health insurance to more intrusive oversight of medical care in general.
Everyone in the U.K. might have access to health care, but they are often forced to accept inferior health care. Will Obamacare result in Americans patiently waiting 4 1/2 months between a referral and an appointment with a specialist or surgeon? Will Americans have to wait weeks, or months, for treatment or surgery, in some cases, risking death?
With Obamacare scheduled to begin phasing-in on Oct. 1, in order to avoid what Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) has called a "train wreck," these questions need answers.
Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. E-mail, email@example.com.
By CAL THOMAS