As Democrats push for single-payer healthcare as a cure-all in the U.S., they will have to hope that voters are not paying close attention to what is happening in the United Kingdom right now.
Thanks to the entirely-foreseeable arrival of winter and its attendant flu season, hospitals within the United Kingdom’s National Health Service have been forced to cancel as many as 50,000 scheduled surgeries over the next few weeks. Resources are so scarce that patients with the flu are facing 12-hour waits, and being forced to wait in hallways in “third world” conditions. Ambulances are forming long lines waiting around the outside of hospitals, and over one in eight of those patients have had to wait over 30 minutes, a BBC analysis shows. Over 75,000 have waited twice as long as the maximum 15 minutes to be handed over to staff, and some waits have stretched as long as five hours.
In one harrowing account reported by the BBC:
Leah Butler-Smith was with her mother, who was having a stroke, when she was caught in a queue outside Broomfield Hospital in Essex this week. It was five hours until she was seen by a doctor – an experience she described as “scary”. “We weren’t moving. We weren’t going anywhere,” she said. Her mother kept falling in and out of consciousness, while she and her sister tried to keep her spirits up. Ambulances continued arriving, making them scared they would be bumped for more urgent cases. “It’s just gobsmacking,” Leah said. She said it was too soon to know what affect the delay had had on her mother’s health. “The staff are doing all they can. There just aren’t the funds for the beds,” she said.
The NHS’ Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh has ordered that NHS trusts stop taking “all but the most urgent cases, closing outpatients clinics for weeks,” reports The Telegraph:
“The position at the moment is as bad as I’ve ever known. We are simply not coping, we were at full capacity before the sorts of pressures that we should be able to manage – like a rise in flu – is pushing us over the edge,” said Dr. Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine. “Things are terrible now, but I am fearful the next few weeks will be horrendous.”
It is hard for an American to imagine living with the chaos and dysfunction described in the Telegraph report. From the third world-like conditions patients with the flu are facing (again, cases of flu in winter should not create a national health crisis) to a “maximum state of emergency” faced by “12 NHS trusts—including two ambulance services covering almost nine million people—to a nationwide ban on all non-emergency treatment for at least a month, it is hard to imagine that anyone in the U.S. is advocating for a single-payer system like the one in the U.K.
Yet Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) frequently tout socialized healthcare systems like the United Kingdom’s because they spend less and supposedly cover everybody. Yet there remains the dismal healthcare reality in Britain these senators ignore: 50,000 cancelled surgeries, long, possibly health-jeopardizing waits for emergency care, and a system that is overwhelmed by the predictable arrival of the winter flu.
This is not a symptom but the disease of socialized medicine: it cannot exist without massive infusions of government funding, yet it still leads to irrational and inefficient rationing of care and negative health outcomes.