Policy-ish

Britain's Health System Defended


The National Health Service in the U.K. has become a punching bag for some critics of proposals to remake the U.S. health-care system.

iStockphoto.com
iStockphoto.com

Among the inflammatory charges, Sen. Edward Kennedy wouldn't have received state-of-the-art care for his brain tumor in a place like Great Britain because health overseers would have found extending the life of the 77-year-old unworthy of the expense.

"Well, I'm sorry to say that's the most ludicrous thing that I've heard," Ara Darzi, a surgeon and former minister of health, tells Steve Inskeep on Tuesday's Morning Edition. It's an example, Darzi says, of the "lies that have been used to set fear against reform."

Darzi also co-wrote a Washington Post op-ed to set matters straight. Here are a few things he thinks Americans should know:

All Britons are registered with primary care doctors who see them without charging patients a fee.

The docs are independent contractors compensated in part for the quality of care they provide, so "they can focus on what works not what pays."

Patients can choose their providers of health care and, starting next spring, the NHS will be the first health system in the world to publish quality measures for every department in every hospital.

To critics of change, the U.K. embodies concerns that a faceless bureaucrat will make life and death decisions restricting care. Darzi turns that right around.

"Americans fear that countries such as Britain and Canada ration care — and that such rationing could and should never be tolerated in the United States," the Post editorial says. "Yet 47 million uninsured is quite an extreme form of rationing. So at this moment, the burden of proof falls upon those who oppose change — for they stand in defense of fear.

Bonus track: Darzi, a proficient practitioner of minimally invasive surgery, likes to listen to Pink Floyd while operating.

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