'The NHS pretty much signed my death warrant'

The woman who has become a figurehead for US right-wingers tells The Independent why she spoke out

Kevin Rawlinson
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:04

A British cancer patient yesterday described how she allowed herself to become the figurehead for a right-wing American campaign opposing the creation of an 'American NHS.'

Katie Brickell, 26, who has campaigned to raise awareness of cervical cancer since she was diagnosed with an "incurable" form of the disease three years ago, recorded a video telling Americans how she was "badly let down" by the British system.

In an interview with The Independent yesterday, Mrs Brickell said: "I have said my bit, it's up to the American people to draw their own conclusions now."

Mrs Brickell, first asked for a smear test at the age of 19 but was told she didn't need one until she was 20-years-old. A year later, when she returned to her doctor, she was told that the age had been raised to 25. At 23, she was diagnosed with an incurable cervical cancer.

The video, available on internet sites such as Youtube, was produced by Conservatives for Patients' Rights – a right-wing American group campaigning against President Obama's healthcare reforms.

In it, Mrs Brickell tells a reporter: "I feel that the National Health Service has let me down because I feel that if I had had a smear test when I had asked for one originally I wouldn't have gone through everything that I have been through now and I feel that them raising the age limit has pretty much signed my death warrant."

Yesterday she said she did not have any regrets about her comments: "I would not like to have to rely solely on the NHS. I honestly do not think that I would still be here today if I had not had private healthcare. On the other hand, I would not have been able to afford that if it weren't for my employer's insurance," she said. "I agreed to contribute to the debate. It is simply my own experience. I gave an interview and everything I said was truthful and subjective. I knew what their intention was when I did the interview and I was quite willing to be used as an example as to how the system doesn't always work."

She said she was now in remission but feared the cancer could still return. "I have had three clear scans in a row. The NHS staff do a wonderful job. But I would say to anybody in my situation now that if they had the money, they should go private.

"It is the Government which sets out the guidelines, not the nurses and the doctors on the front line," she said.

Mrs Brickell was given a dual course of drugs – two courses of drugs at a time – which she believes she would not have got on the NHS. "Trouble is, double the drugs is double the price," she said. "On the other hand, if it had been on the NHS I would have had to get a lot of clearance to get that level of care. On private, that just was not an issue. If I needed a scan, it was immediate. On the NHS, it was often a two or three-week wait." Katie also set up a Facebook group which she said has become "a forum for people to discuss cervical cancer." It now has nearly 100,000 members.

She said: "I have had women saying: 'I don't know what to do' or 'I don't have the money to go private.' It is not just a two-day thing and then you're clear. In the region of £100,000 has been spent on my own private healthcare," she added.

Mrs Brickell, who works for insurance firm Lloyds of London, said she would also like to have children with the embryos and eggs which were frozen before her hysterectomy. "We have five embryos and six eggs frozen. I only pay a nominal fee for their storage. If and when I am healthy enough to have children then I would consider it. If we ever have enough money, that is," she said.

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