UK Public Health Powered by Love and Propaganda
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lift almost all COVID-19 restrictions in his country on July 19. Some British media call it “Freedom Day”.
The public response to Freedom Day is similar to that in the US when governors began lifting restrictions in their states earlier this year. Some people call Johnson reckless, others say it is high time. One key difference, however, is that UK discussions on COVID-19 policy start and end with the National Health Service (NHS).
Many Americans understand that the UK has a payer health system. The overwhelming majority of Britons rely on it for their care. The NHS budget is around $ 300 billion this year, including over $ 80 billion for the treatment of COVID.
I lived in the UK between 2013 and 2015. I got some health problems there and experienced a lot more from the NHS than I ever expected. I never got a single invoice or made an extra payment, which was weird and wonderful.
However, most Americans don’t realize how much propaganda it takes to keep the NHS in the UK. The British know that the care the NHS provides can be terrible at times, but they are taught to love it anyway. They believe that the NHS is good in itself, with any problems always being the result of underfunding or interference from politicians. Britons often speak of the need to “appreciate” and “protect” the NHS. They call it “our NHS”, “our most precious national treasure” and “the envy of the world”. Living there I was impressed by how people from different backgrounds all seemed to use the same vocabulary when talking about the NHS.
Americans watching the opening of the London 2012 Olympics got a taste of the NHS propaganda machine. The ceremony included a “Tribute to the NHS” where dancing NHS nurses teamed up with Mary Poppins to save a child from the Grim Reaper. British people have been spoon-fed messages like this every day from birth. And I mean literally from birth since most UK babies are born in NHS hospitals.
After that, children are relentlessly taught how lucky they are to be looked after by the NHS. I could list hundreds of examples, but here are just a few: A recent children’s book called We love the NHS was published with the stated aim of teaching children “to appreciate and finance the NHS for future generations, and to know that it will only continue to exist if we work to ensure it”. During the COVID-19 closings, children across the UK were drawn into weekly events that received applause from NHS staff. They were also encouraged to paint pictures of rainbows to express their gratitude to the NHS. Prince William and Kate Middleton posted and captured photos of their younger son Prince Louis.
As British children grow up, the message that the NHS is wonderful is reinforced at every turn. This year, July 4th was inaugurated in the UK as the first annual Thank You Day for people to thank the NHS. According to the NHS website, “citizens are encouraged to celebrate the day in a variety of ways, from picnics to barbecues, outdoor parties and drinks.”
In a recent book called Dear NHS: A collection of stories to say thank you, Celebrities from Emma Watson to Paul McCartney, “share their stories about how the National Health Service was there for them and how changed their lives in the process. Alternating deeply moving, hilarious, hopeful and passionate, these stories come together to form a love letter to the NHS.
The NHS also has a nonprofit arm called NHS Charities that collects private donations. Prince William and Kate Middleton are the official patrons. Apparently, the $ 300 billion the NHS is getting from UK taxpayers is still not enough. During the pandemic, 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore became a national hero by raising millions for NHS charities by doing laps in his garden with his walker. For his efforts, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
NHS propaganda occasionally crosses borders. Last year NHS Charities produced an ad showing Santa Claus in intensive care, believed to be suffering from COVID-19 and being nursed back to health by NHS staff. Parents complained that their children were scared of the ad, so it was withdrawn.
Support for the NHS crosses all party lines. Politicians sometimes seem to compete with each other to see who can praise the NHS in the best of words. Last year, after recovering from his own struggle with COVID-19, Boris Johnson posted a video in which he said, “We are making progress in this national struggle because the UK public has a human shield for the greatest national good Land forms: our national health service … We will win because our NHS is the beating heart of this country. It’s the best of this land. It is invincible. It is driven by love. “
Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, made one Video about his mother, an NHS nurse, who got sick and became a patient. “The NHS, which she served and loved as a nurse, suddenly became, if you will, her lifeline. She got seriously ill many, many times and it was the NHS she turned to, ”he said.
Despite all the propaganda, the main advantage of the NHS is that most Britons have never experienced any other type of health care. When I lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I befriended a British expat who once admitted to me in a low voice that she probably couldn’t move back to the UK because of the NHS. Sao Paulo has a world class private healthcare system and she was used to seeing doctors whenever she needed them.
Most Britons know in some ways that caring for the NHS can be terrible – usually firsthand. But they were taught that it doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. Every person I’ve ever spoken to about the NHS has a horror story. One mother told me that when she gave birth to her baby, she was treated so negligently that she fell into deep postpartum depression. Another friend told me that she was sent home from an overcrowded hospital too early after the operation; As a result, her wound became infected and she was sick for weeks.
Just sharing some of these anecdotes, however, doesn’t capture the gritty bureaucratic nightmare of living with the NHS. Conservatives sometimes joke that in a payer system, your health care would be like the DMV. I’m not exactly against payer health care, but that’s a pretty good analogy for the NHS.
I was diagnosed with a rare, serious condition when I lived in the UK. It was almost impossible to get answers about what was wrong with me. I received letters by post from doctors whom I had never met personally and who could not be reached by telephone. At one point I was referred to a hospital 170 miles from home for a test. Since I had just given birth eight weeks earlier, I was hoping the test could be done at my local hospital instead. I tried to arrange this for three months without success. Finally I submitted and went on the trip to take my test.
Fortunately, not long after that we moved to South Africa, where I had access to excellent private health care. Several specialists I saw there were amazed that I was not referred for surgery immediately after the diagnosis. My condition was much more difficult to treat because of the delay. But that’s the NHS. If you don’t bleed to death on the hospital floor, you’ll be pushed to the end of the line.
Again, I’m not exactly against payer health care, but it has to be way better than the NHS.
What about the COVID-19 crisis? I hate to think about how bad things have gotten in the UK. A study found that nearly 1.6 million surgeries were postponed or canceled in 2020 and that number is expected to rise to 2.4 million this year. A columnist for the Daily maildescribed how his appointment with the specialist had been delayed by seven months.
The British media refer to this situation as “NHS backlog”. That sounds like the pile of emails you have to answer when you get back from vacation. In fact, it is a humanitarian disaster. Thousands of people will suffer and even die from this so-called residue.
In order to suppress possible dissatisfaction among the masses, the NHS propaganda machine has been running at full speed. The 73rd birthday of the NHS on July 5th was celebrated even more lavishly than usual. Prince William and Boris Johnson attended a thanksgiving service for the NHS at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Queen Elizabeth awarded the George Cross to the NHS. The George Cross is the UK’s highest award for valor and heroism and is usually given to individuals.
When I lived in the UK I sometimes wondered if there could be a turning point when the care got so bad that the British finally had enough. It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 fallout will cause that moment to finally come.
Where is america Health care in this country is hardly a panacea. But maybe we have the advantage over the British that we all agree that our system needs to be fixed. Nobody would ever call Medicaid and Medicare “our greatest national asset”. The UK’s relentless pro-NHS propaganda makes real reform much more difficult.
Emma Freire is a freelance writer who has published in Federalist, Human Events, and others. For the past ten years she has lived in Brazil, South Africa and Europe with her husband and three children, but she identifies as an American.