Dr Mary McCarthy: We should cherish free health care

It is always much easier making New Year’s Resolutions for other people rather than for yourself.

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I have lots of resolutions for the government that I think would improve the country but I’m not nearly as good at deciding to improve myself – or rather the resolutions I make now are depressingly similar to resolutions I made as a teenager.

Decisions to work harder, be tidier, get up earlier and lose weight are all resolutions I made in my teens that, obviously, I feel I haven’t really achieved yet. I guess if I had done all of those things I would be almost perfect and very boring.

It is surprisingly easy to make resolutions for the government, though.

I wish they would recognise the National Health System as one of the most cost-effective health systems in the world and stop trying to cut its funding still further. I wish they would acknowledge this is the only country where becoming ill means you do not have to worry about money. Where, unlike America, developing a serious illness does not lead to bankruptcy.

I had a friend who was a psychiatrist in America, in Los Angeles, and whose patients were mostly in the movie business and extremely rich.

In treating them in America’s private medicine system, he also became extremely rich – wealthy enough to own apartment blocks and a couple of cattle ranches. His wife got breast cancer and the treatment involved chemotherapy and radiation, both expensive procedures in the States. They came on a last holiday to London and he explained to me he had released all his assets and was using the money for this last trip.

When they got home, they were going to stop all treatment because they could no longer afford it. I remember him talking enviously about our health system and how in this country you did not have to be rich in order to afford the best treatment.

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Comments for: "Dr Mary McCarthy: We should cherish free health care"


The NHS keeps more doctors on extremely good salaries so that is why it is very much in the interests of doctors to keeps the status quo.

As a public funded service it is only fair that we expect to get good value for our money, something the medical profession appear to forget.


Free health care is a nonsense and will never be viable despite governments pouring ever more sums of money into what is an inefficient and wasteful organisation.

There should be a flat rate consultancy charge of approximately £10 to see a GP and prescription charges should, in all but exceptional cases, be made for the over-60's.


A celebrity was once contacted by an advertising agency, who told him: "We'd love you to star in our latest adverts, because you have a reputation as someone whose opinion can't be bought. And that gives you integrity." Former Health Minister Anne Milton (now a government whip) followed a similar logic, because she announced that the Health Service would be encouraged to make profits by setting up businesses abroad, to take advantage of the NHS brand's "worldwide reputation".

She had a point, although hopefully someone in parliament pointed out a detail she missed, and say: "With respect to the honourable member, the reason it has a worldwide reputation is because it's not run for profit so it's free, not because it's a well-known brand like Levi's jeans or Walkers crisps, so to turn that into a business would be like saying 'People love the Dalai Lama as he's all calm and peaceful so let's get him to sell landmines', you steaming great tory idiot."


Ah Jett. Never one to articulate any kind of cogent argument when he can resort to plain old insults.

I won't request that your above comment be deleted so that others can see you for what you are.


Ms Milton must have watched the NHS bit of the London Olympics opening ceremony thinking: "Well done Danny for exploiting the NHS brand. We can sell the health service to Japan now and make millions, as they'll think all the beds have dancing children underneath."


We pay for the NHS is not free.


Free at the point of service, as you well know.


You mean even free when you don't need it Severnsider as you well know.

Tony in BC

Mary - Britain is not the only country in the world where you get free (taxpayer funded) healthcare and where you don't have to worry about money. Let me see - most European countries have similar systems along with New Zealand, Australia and Canada.... not to mention Japan, Taiwan and likely many other countries. New Zealand and Germany had public health systems long before Great Britain. The exception in Europe is Switzerland, which is a private system but those who cannot afford to pay are helped out by the taxpayer.

Few people admire the American model - where the insurance companies run the system and physicians must demand high salaries in order to pay for eventual legal battles with patients. Indeed to compare most health-care system with the American model is a bit silly.


It is copying the US litigation model that has put so much pressure on our NHS system and a consequence is salaries for doctors and higher management have risen substantially and insurance costs too.


Maybe the government think the reason the NHS has been free for the past 60 years is a marketing ploy to attract customer loyalty, the way you don't have to pay for the first month of a Sky sports package. So each NHS trust will be free to sell itself as a business, making the most of its worldwide reputation by opening profitable wards across the world, with adverts saying: "Get sorted out sooner and back to good humour, Let Leicester Infirmary whip out your tumour."


I think Severnsider is implying that we should be part paying for our present system Jett.

His bullish response is what is not cogent. As Tony BC pointed out we are not the only country to have a public funded health service.

The problem with Severnsider's suggestion is that not all over 60s can afford prescription charges and many folk could not afford to pay for a GP visit. This is why we simplify the system so we treat everyone equally. It becomes more expensively bureaucratic otherwise.

It has to be appreciated that good health can come down to luck not just lifestyle choices and there is mass responsibility for some increased health risks, pollution for example being a major issue.

We do need to look at end of life choices and care. Death, a natural process is presently unnecessarily taking place in hospital in stressful circumstances and needs to be seen as a situation that can be managed better and more humanely without fear of litigation following.

Just as women make birth plans which of course cannot always be followed, it makes sense to make plans for one's exit from life before one loses the capacity to make balanced decisions and so those left behind know what was wished for.

I would not personally choose to spend several of my final years on an air mattress being fed, bathed and frankly costing the environment when my physical condition had deteriorated. This is what we presently do and if most people had the opportunity I am certain they would like to have the guarantee of a peaceful last breath when they felt the time was right.


I wholeheartedly agree with your 'end of life' sentiments. Unfortunately, our MP's - on all sides of the house - have repeatedly refused to enact any legislation to allow assisted dying.

Tony in BC

Terry - in this province over 60s must pay for our medication unless we have an extra insurance policy (for example former civil servants) - we must also pay for a full medical exam - depending on the doctor it is around $50.

which I think discourages some seniors for annual check-ups.

Waiting time for operations, such as hip replacement, can be years and depends on one's age and profession.

We have exactly the same complaints from doctors about lack of funding though it is fairly easy to get an appointment with a doctor.

I rarely if ever visit a doctor - looking after one's own health is something we all should do - diet and daily exercise being the most important factors in keeping young and fit!


In response to having a National Health Service, we don't, it hasn't been National for some time but a large number of small businesses under the logo of the NHS, competing with each other. Business paradigms do not work in service provision, they battle each other. One trying to cut and sell assists to make money, the other costing money but in doing so (as it used to) saves money as it keeps people safe and prevents, or early diagnosis to prevent more expensive treatment. The money is being deliberately with held, or to fat cat salaries and pensions (don't forget we did have the highest paid Civil Servant running the West Midlands Ambulance Service...he may have been a Paramedic but his degree is in Business as all high level Nurses, Therapists and anyone at any level within the Health Business). We have extremely highly paid Chief Executives who in most part come in to fail then are moved onto another area to do the same, or have massive pays out to fail. You can argue whether we can afford the NHS now being one of the wealthiest countries in the Western World or think how we could afford it during a time of severe austerity after the War.

Do we want it is the question. Personally I do but not in it's business form with too many Managers and Directors not knowing or even understanding the service provision, too few beds for the population, too few qualified staff, too few actually not burnt out or bullied. We had a wonderful service where people loved to work for, not perfect but functioning. It is not functioning now at all and it is a service destroyed deliberately. Many staff I speak to look forward either to retiring or finding another job.

We certainly do not want an American Insurance based system with high mortality rates. Up to the individual to want to keep the NHS or let it collapse beyond repair.