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Trumping up the NHS

Matt Nuttall

Matt is a mostly-opinion writer who likes to complain about politics, sport, and the world at large.

Recently Donald Trump tweeted that the NHS was ‘broke and not working’ after to calls to march on Downing Street to protest the state of the British healthcare system. Trump’s statement completely missed the point of the march; the protesters want more funding for the NHS, they were far from wanting to end the institution. This particular wild Trump tweet, however, can spark a debate about healthcare in both the UK and USA, which is a conversation worth having.

To begin with, the NHS is a venerable British institution and is not going anywhere. It was recently ranked by an American think tank as the best healthcare system in the world, it is regularly voted the thing that British people are most proud of. Scrapping the programme is extremely unpopular among all age groups. However, it is not a system without problems. The NHS is unbelievably expensive, taking up nearly 7.5% of the British budget by percent GDP. That is an unbelievable amount of money spent on a single institution, and, along with pensions, is far-and-away the biggest strain on our government. Furthermore, its general lack of private funding means that the care it can actually provide is significantly worse than privatized American healthcare. The same study that ranked the NHS as the best healthcare system in the world also revealed that it allows more preventable deaths than the majority of Western Europe. The NHS is simply not a perfect system.

Due to these issues, Trump is actually right in not wanting an American equivalent to the NHS. The problems that plague our system would be magnified tenfold should they be applied to a country of that size. The United States has just shy of five times the population of the UK, and the increased population would weigh on a national health care deficit. The NHS is not a system the US should be aspiring to. It would be far too expensive and unwieldly.

However, that is not to say that their current system is in any way better.

The current American healthcare system is in shambles. It was ranked the worst of any Western nation by the same study, and with good reason. While good healthcare is fantastic if you have access to it, the expense of it is unaffordable to all but the middle and upper classes. Putting a necessity like healthcare in the hands of the free market leaves those in need open to abuse. What they are selling can mean the difference between life and death, allowing sellers to charge extortionate prices: companies hold the cure in one hand, and extend an open palm with the other. The result is a healthcare disaster. New institutions like Obamacare have helped, but 10.9% of Americans remain without health insurance, and therefore remain essentially on the brink of disaster permanently. For this 10.9%, something as simple as a broken leg can lead to either financial ruin, or a lifelong health problem.

Trump lecturing the UK about the NHS’s issues feels rather like a heroin addict lecturing a teenager on the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Solving the healthcare problems that trouble both the UK and the US is obviously easier said than done, but the situation on our side of the pond does require less dramatic action. Further privatisation for non-essential parts of the NHS is an unpopular, but legitimate, solution. Raising taxes could also help, but remains unpopular for obvious reasons. Ultimately, the NHS is not the problem, but rather the right idea with kinks to iron out. A national healthcare system works in this country, and it will continue to work. Small adaptations are required, not wholesale change.

The American situation meanwhile does require dramatic upheaval. Republicans champion more competition in the healthcare market, which would help keep prices, but would still fail to solve the problem. Democrats favour guaranteeing all Americans health insurance for subsidised prices, which does help but is a real strain on government resources. I would favour a state-by-state government service, with each state government providing a healthcare system. This would mean that the nation is essentially casting fifty separate nets over its populace rather than one large one, lowering overall expense, and making it less likely for individuals to slip out and die unnecessarily. However, this would require very conservative states to implement a very liberal policy, which will not happen. Either way, the American healthcare system all but requires dramatic overhaul. So Donald, please solve your own issues before targeting any of ours.

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