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Correspondence

Not That Bad: My Experience With British Public Healthcare

A sign hangs in the waiting room of my doctor’s office.  It advises patients how many appointments were missed in the previous month and how many work hours this cost the staff.  The practice has no recourse against patients who fail to turn up.  There was no cost for the appointment in the first place.  So all the staff can do is hang up that sign, to accuse patients silently as they sit in the waiting room.

These guilt-mongering signs are a common sight in medical facilities of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).  I became quite familiar with them because I lived in the southwest of England for nearly three years, and during that time I received all my medical care from the NHS.  We recently relocated to South Africa for my husband’s work.

Founded in 1948, the NHS is now the world’s largest single-payer public healthcare system.  Its budget for this year is £116.4 billion.  Nearly everyone in Britain gets his healthcare from the NHS.  Only 11 percent of the population has some form of private health insurance.  With 1.5 million employees, the NHS is the fifth-largest employer in the world.

I would sum up my three years as an NHS patient by saying upfront that the NHS is not that bad.  When Americans hear about the NHS, they usually think of long waiting lines and death panels.  When I resigned my job in the United...

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