This week Donald Trump, as he so often does, tweeted an unsubstantiated claim – this time that the NHS was “broke and not working”. He criticised a universal healthcare system which has been in existence since 1948, citing his belief in “personal”, privatised medical care.
I am a dual British and American citizen living in England. I’m proud to call both countries my home.
However, had my parents not made the decision 33 years ago to live in England, they would, by now, be buried under a mound of medical debt.
Over the past year my family has seen more hospitals than we care to count – we can tell you the best place to find coffee at the Royal National Orthopaedic and the best time to park outside Cheltenham Chemotherapy Unit. And we know all the wi-fi codes for every hospital in a 100-mile radius of our house. We quite literally owe our lives to the NHS.
It was the NHS that saved my five-year-old brother from death when he contracted septicaemia 15 years ago. It is the NHS which has treated my dad’s kidney condition for the past 24 years. It is the NHS which enabled my mother to donate a lifesaving kidney to my dad two years ago, and it was the NHS which funded life-changing spinal surgery for my mother.
But above all, it is the NHS that has kept my dad alive throughout the past year of cancer treatment.
And during all these hospital trips, the late nights, the surgeries and care, not once did anyone stop to ask the name of our insurance company.
When the nurse sat and held my mother’s hand for 20 minutes after she had heard my father’s cancer diagnosis, she did not present us with a bill before we left the room.
And what of Donald Trump’s “personal” healthcare system? It is so personal that my 91-year-old grandmother was sent home from hospital in the US (in a taxi) after just 48 hours because her insurance company wouldn’t fund a rehab treatment for her eight broken ribs. She was told, “Broken ribs can heal on their own” – despite having osteoporosis and significantly reduced lung capacity. They didn’t even bother to send her home with adequate painkillers.
When I started at university in Massachusetts, one of the first bits of advice my roommate gave me was: “Never call an ambulance”. She told me to call her, and she’d take me to A&E. She said, “Unless you’re about to die, it’s not worth it. They’ll charge you $450 (£325) for the ride.” And no, that wouldn’t have been covered under the $2,000 (£1,440) health insurance plan I had been forced to buy.
Later in my college years, I saw an American friend buried under a mountain of medical debt for a simple procedure, unable to take out student loans four years down the line.
The US spends 17.1 per cent of its GDP on healthcare, while the UK spends 9.1 per cent. That’s $4,192 per head in the UK and $9,892 in the USA. There are 27 million uninsured Americans, but no uninsured Brits. These are the cold hard facts, but Trump would probably dismiss them as “fake news”.
True, the NHS is not perfect (is any healthcare system?), and it is staffed by some of the most overworked, underpaid and underappreciated doctors and nurses I have ever encountered. In our travels through the NHS we have also encountered those caring, professional and dedicated doctors, nurses, surgeons and healthcare assistants again and again.
No one is ever allocated healthcare based on the contents of their bank account and not one of the individuals staffing it would dream of using that as a criteria for treatment.
The NHS is facing many challenges – people are living longer, less money is being put into services and this is causing an inevitable strain. But people didn’t take to the streets over the weekend and march because the system was “broken”. They marched because they care about the incredible facility we have in the NHS and want to make it better.
Donald Trump needs to get his own house in order before daring to criticise others.
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