Even if you live in the UK, you are hardly likely to have missed the furore brewing up in the US over reform of their health care 'system'. Given that the US spends about twice the proportion of GDP on health care than we do and still leaves 45m people uninsured - and a disproportionate number of them are black or Hispanic - I'm not sure what they have to be so proud of, so something else is clearly going on.
An unexpected side effect of the debate for me is the way in which the UK system has been singled out by many campaigners as An Awful Warning. Some of this is simple stupidity - the guy shouting, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” and the posters with similar messages are good for a laugh, but they demonstrate a perilous level ignorance of how the present US system works.
More seriously Campaign ads in the US have used numerous interviews with British people to belittle the NHS but at least one of those interviewed is now on record saying she was lied to about the purpose of the interview and that her views have been distorted. In other TV coverage I have seen the most outrageous lies about the way the British system works put forward by both US politicians and demonstrators. One person claimed it took 6 months to get a dentist appointment - which is of course malevolent garbage. What is it about the American obsession with British teeth anyway? Is it a folk memory from WW2 (when we didn't have the NHS by the way)? We have also seen some Conservative Party nonentity appearing on American TV deliberately it seems misrepresenting the position we face here - he has now been repudiated by his own party leader, who of course has his own reasons to be thankful for the British NHS.
Another interviewee claimed that the UK has the worst death rate and the lowest recovery rate in Europe. Perhaps - but the variation across 'Old Europe' ie excluding the former Soviet Bloc countries is minimal. In practice life expectancy in the UK and most of Europe are marginally better than in the US, while neo-natal death rates are significantly better than the US. (Source OECD and WHO via BBC)
A host of stories have surfaced in the US, of which perhaps the most bizarre is the claim that "People such as 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" to which Prof Hawking responded "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS, I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived."
Some of the other stories are listed here in that bastion of socialist thinking the Daily Telegraph. For example:
Allegation: NHS patients over 59 years of age cannot receive heart repairs, stents or bypasses.
Response: A national audit on cardiac surgery showed that one in five of all patients was aged over 75.
If you want to see what life can be without accessible health care look at this photo. This is the christening photograph of my grandmother, taken in 1887. The man standing at the back is her father, my great-grandfather. His wife isn't there because she was either dead or dying as a result of childbirth. She died about three months after the birth from anaemia - effectively she bled to death.
I was born before our NHS started. I was born with a crippling condition known as talipes - otherwise known as club foot. I had to wait until the NHS came into being before it could be treated, and that delay was critical in causing many of the health problems I face some 60 years later. Without the NHS, I probably would be dead by now, because of the stresses of the crippled life I would have faced.
Without the NHS I wouldn't have a wife - she has MS and would probably again have died by now without the health and social care we can take for granted here.
Without the NHS I wouldn't have a daughter - my wife had several miscarriages and without NHS treatment she would never have carried a pregnancy to term.
Not for the first time America is meddling in the affairs of other countries. The Republican Party and the health insurance lobby are lying about OUR health service to defend their own financial positions. They certainly are not interested in the health of the average American. Despite the stupidity - or perhaps gullibility - of many of those protesting in the US against reform, they would do well to think about the stories I have told. Stories that are being repeated now across Africa. Stories that in only slightly less harrowing forms are still being told in America.
Surely, no country that calls itself civilised can allow its citizens to live in the sort of fear and despair that lack of health insurance can cause, IS causing in the US, now, today and day after day. Some reform is essential. Hiding behind fairy stories about death panels (the egregious Sarah Palin), lying to your citizens about what happens elsewhere, deliberately promoting ignorance to defend your privileged position is not civilised. Something must change.
Lying about other countries has other effects too of course. We have no shortage of venality in this country. There will be politicians who want to protect their own status, who will seek to curry favour with the Mail readers who blame it all on immigration, who will try to dismantle our own system using the same lies as are being told in the US.America - you are being told lies.
(Posted as part of Ronni Bennett's blog campaign - see more here)