Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obama, Healthcare, Hannan and the NHS

There is a frenetic debate going on the the US on healthcare. This was a key part of President Obama's election campaign, particularly addressing the problem of tens of millions of Americans who lack health insurance. But it is proving a very divisive issue, because while it is anything but equal the US healthcare system is oriented towards excellence and if you get treatment then the statistics for outcomes are some of the best in the world. Those opposing the President are using the NHS as an example of what not to do, and this has been reinforced by Daniel Hannan MEP's criticism of the service. In turn that has been used by the Labour Party as political ammunition against the Conservatives despite the fact that Mr. Hannan has no brief for healthcare whatsoever.

Let us try and reduce the argument to its fundamentals. In the US enormous numbers of people either have no access to decent healthcare or are bankrupted by trying to pay for it. This cannot stand in a developed country and President Obama is right to address the issue. That does not mean that his proposed solution is automatically perfect though, but critics at least must acknowledge that there is a problem and join a debate on fixing it. Pretending that the current system is fair an reasonable is ridiculous. Moving on to the the NHS, this is a vast organisation and has many successes against a much smaller number of failures. Speaking personally, I have had nothing but exemplary care for my serious health issues, but that does not mean that the system could not be improved. In particular the Labour government has returned to a very centralised model and that does not work for anything particularly well, be it tractor production or making people well. Conservatives would keep to the principles of the NHS but move the service on to the 21st century. That is what John Major's government was doing in reforms stopped by Labour, so there is a lost decade of reform to make up there. Daniel Hannan has made some measured criticism of the NHS, but this has been blown out of proportion by parties in the US who find it useful to portray the NHS as a disaster and Labour in the UK, who are desperate for anything that might damage their opponents. Daniel Hannan tries to put his comments into context here.

This whole row typifies the problem with the healthcare debate in the UK. Because health is so important and affects, well, everyone it is easy to replace rational debate with emotive nonsense that improves the lives of patients not one jot. Suggest change and Labour politicians in particular will try and shift the argument to who cares the most as opposed to who will make people live longer. Frankly, I would rather be alive than know our leaders really, really do care.

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