NHS Report Details the Misery of Government-Run Health Care

Stafford NHS Tribute WallIf you want to know your future under Obamacare, look to England, where government-run health care has created “appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people”. That, by the way, is not the description given by some free-market advocate across the Atlantic, but by the man who headed up an official investigation into one hospital’s operations between 2005 and 2009.

The report, which examined conditions at Stafford Hospital in Staffordshire over a 50-month period between 2005 and 2009, cites example after example of horrific treatment: patients left unbathed and lying in their own urine and excrement; patients left so thirsty that they drank water from vases; patients denied medication, pain relief and food by callous and overworked staff members; patients who contracted infections due to filthy conditions; and patients sent home to die after being given the wrong diagnoses.

“This is the story of the appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people,” Robert Francis, the lawyer appointed by the government to lead the inquiry, said at a news conference.

“They were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate interests and cost control ahead of patients and their safety,” he added. “There was a lack of care, compassion, humanity and leadership. The most basic standards of care were not observed, and fundamental rights to dignity were not respected.”

Many of the problems, according to the report, came from attempts to lower costs. Administrators tried to “bend the cost curve”, to borrow a recent Obamacare-related phase, but instead consigned hundreds of Britons to premature death and lingering misery.

Two things I want to stress here. First, of course patients got short shrift by the hospital. What incentive did administrators have to pay attention to anything but the bottom line? All the incentives built into the NHS are fiscal — hospitals are pressured to hit numeric targets not based on how often they cure patients but how quickly they can cycle patients in and out get a better status based on how much money they don’t spend on patients. They have no tangible reason to show any measure of “care, compassion, humanity, and leadership”.

Second, patients and their families have no way to exert pressure on doctors, nurses, or administrators. It’s not as if a patient can choose one hospital over another, choose one treatment over another, or shop around for better care. They’re locked into a system in which they are costs, not consumers. Short of appealing to the government (and they have been demanding better care from the NHS for decades), the average person in England has little to no control whatever over their health care. They get what the NHS gives them.

These days, unfortunately, what the NHS provides is a painful and humiliating trip to the morgue. It’s only a matter of time before Obamacare, with the same goals, incentives, and lack of consumer pressure, does the same thing for us.

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