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NHS under US attack

Senators opposing Obama's healthcare reforms openly criticise the NHS in a bid to halt moves towards socialised medicine in the US

As Democrats in the US continue to use 'town-hall' style meetings to espouse President Barak Obama's radical healthcare plans, Republicans determined to derail the reform agenda have openly criticised the UK's NHS, singling it out as an example of the perils of adopting a state-funded healthcare system.

Criticism of the UK system hinged on accusations by Senate Finance Committee chairman, Charles E Grassley, that Senate Edward Kennedy, 77, would be refused treatment for his brain tumour on the NHS on the grounds that he is too old.

The trans-Atlantic mudslinging has angered healthcare officials in the UK, who have been quick to dismiss Grassley's assertions that the system is ageist, saying that the claims are misleading, exaggerated and inaccurate.

A spokesman at the Department of Health said that Grassley's claims were "just wrong" and reiterated that the health service in England provides healthcare on the basis of clinical need regardless of age or ability to pay. Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) said that he was dismayed by the 'jaw-droppingly untruthful attacks' made by some American critics.

Many observers say that comparing the health systems of the UK and the US is pointless because they are so different. This hasn't stopped critics from making comparisons to undermine Obama's agenda.

In one recent US advertising campaign, supported by Washington-based fiscal conservative group, Club for Growth, the figure $22,750 flashes on screen beneath two pictures: one of Big Ben, the other of a woman lying in a hospital bed. The voiceover says: "In England, government health officials decided that's how much six months of life is worth. Under their socialised system, if a medical treatment costs more, you're out of luck. That's wrong for America."

Andrew Dillion, chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), said the comments were both "untrue and misinformed". He also pointed out that NICE recommends drugs to the value of £30,000 ($49,605) for use on the NHS – way above the $22,750 limit cited in the US advertising campaign – with a top-up option for patients who wish to purchase more expensive medication.

Web of deceit
The debate is also raging in the press with scores of column inches dedicated to the topic. In an article in the Investors Business Daily (IBD) one author claims that: 'The stories of people dying on a waiting list or being denied altogether read like a horror movie script.' The author went on to say: 'People such as the scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the UK where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.'

Professor Hawking was quick to point out that were it not for the NHS he would not be here today. While other US publications pointed out that Professor Hawking was born and has lived all his life in the UK.

Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein said the IBD article was an example of fiscal conservatives 'lying' about healthcare in a desperate attempt to throw Obama's reform agenda off course.

'It's not just that they [IBD] didn't know that Stephen Hawking was born in England. It's that the underlying point was wrong, as you'll note the continued existence of Stephen Hawking. They didn't choose an unfortunate example for an accurate point. They simply lied.”

Citizen journalists and other US writers, while supporting Klein's point, disagree that the IBD author lied knowingly.

The issue has polarised opinion on both sides of the Atlantic, with the blogosphere awash with posts both political and personal.

13th August 2009

From: Healthcare

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