Austerity and the NHS

(If anyone who has personal experience with the National Health Service finds an error in this post or would like to add something, please let me know in the comment section.  This is a serious matter, and I’m making every effort to ensure accuracy.)

I live in San Francisco, and I’ve never traveled anywhere outside the U.S.  However, I used to hear good things about the National Health Service in the United Kingdom.  Not anymore.  The news links at the end of this post concern maternity and neonatal care in NHS hospitals.

There may be some confusion about whether the two separate Guardian reports address conditions in the same system.  The 7 August 2017 article on temporary emergency closures of maternity wards says the hospitals are located in “England,” while the 16 May 2016 article on infant mortality refers to the United Kingdom in general.  Although citizens living in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all eligible for care under the NHS, those countries’ hospital systems are technically separate.

Most of us should remember when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, from 1979-1990.  Prior to her administration, the wealthiest people in the U.K. paid more than eighty percent of their income in taxes, to fund services such as healthcare and private (called public in the U.S.) schools.

(In the interest of balance, here’s a detail you may be interested in:  Taxes on the wealthy also financed payments by the Department of Health and Social Services [DHSS] to nonworking people who met loose criteria, a practice which wasn’t popular with many low-income citizens working full-time.  Mrs. Thatcher’s administration eliminated those payments.)

On Mrs. Thatcher’s watch, the rich got a break and others suffered hardships.  Taxpayer funded healthcare in that neck of the woods isn’t just for the poor.  Most citizens use that system, and if they notice that medical treatment is getting shoddier the rest of the world will probably hear about it.  Sadly, instead of creating international pressure to improve the system, the crisis is likely to be used in some countries as propaganda against single payer healthcare.  Anyone in the United States who has been told by an Obamacare opponent, “Just look at England.  That’s what happens when the government controls these things,” knows how scary that sounds.

Yes, I’m going off-topic here.  Many of the difficulties Americans have with our Affordable Care Act are due to the fact that Republicans and private sector insurance companies wouldn’t tolerate a “public option,” so it was removed from the legislation.  My own opinion is we should have Medicare for all, but unfortunately the term “socialized medicine” causes insurance executives and other powerful people to (defecate) bricks.

Back to the main topic…

Margaret Thatcher’s cooperation with “austerity” plans began before her time as Prime Minister.

As Education Secretary during the 1970s, Mrs. Thatcher approved a plan to stop serving free milk to schoolkids on some grade levels, although children under age seven still received milk.  It’s my understanding that the decision was forced by budget limitations, which made it necessary to decide whether to cut milk or academic programs.  It was similar to the choice many individuals and families are pressured into, when deciding whether to buy food or pay the rent.

It was during the 1980s — while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister — when I began hearing that healthcare was becoming more difficult and more unpleasant for the people in the U.K. to obtain.  The Guardian articles (links are at the end of this post) suggest there’s a dire situation now.

In 1982, Mrs. Thatcher checked into a private hospital, unaffiliated with the NHS, for minor surgery.  She was criticized for that decision because it was accepted practice for people who could afford it to use the NHS and check into “pay beds” on more exclusive wards.  They didn’t have to shun the system altogether when seeking private rooms.  I don’t know the current status of pay beds.

By the time she had her surgery, Margaret Thatcher was accused of neglecting the taxpayer funded hospitals and clinics on which her citizens were relying.

The National Health Service, created in the 1940s, is portrayed negatively in the 1950 novel Our Spoons Came From Woolworth’s by Barbara Comyns.  The author had personal experience giving birth at an NHS hospital, and her novel contains graphic descriptions of the indignities and general harshness inflicted by nurses on the central character.  The scenarios include being forced to carry her suitcase from one room to another while in labor.  In the book, the character notes that expectant parents who could afford it were using other hospitals to avoid the NHS.

After Ms. Comyns’ novel was published, National Health Service care improved.  It appears to be regressing now, though, and that may be the result of deterioration which began during the Thatcher era.

If you’re curious about the DHSS, a link to a YouTube video appears below.  Pay close attention between 5:00 and 6:20.  It won’t tell you a lot, but you’ll be able to sense how the so-called welfare state was part of pop culture at one time.


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