Liam Farrell: We will mourn the NHS when it's gone

After seeing an ECG bill for $237 (at that price it must have been performed by George Clooney), reading a recent report in the Washington Post further emphasised to me how expensive private medical care can be; health insurance for the average American family, parents and two (probably obnoxious) kids, costs $23,215 per year.

I checked the source and found the figures to be an exaggeration; employers pay 60% of the sum, which leaves the paltry sum of about $10k per year.

There is also the continuing uncertainty about what is and isn't covered, whether pre-existing conditions will be disallowed and whether premiums will go up, as all the multiple vested interests chase the almighty dollar.

In contrast, the NHS is a solemn contract we make together; even if you are sick, or vulnerable, you won't be left behind, and some day in the future, historians will look back and say, there was a time, in the 20th century, when people actually gave a damn about each other. Some of us may be lucky and never cost a penny, others unlucky and need a lot of expensive care; over the millions of us that make the contract, it evens out. But we all share the comfort of the security blanket.

There's no luxury, no ferns in the waiting room; it's the Ryanair health service with no frills - it aims to give you what you need, rather than what you want. We take it for granted, and won't miss it till it's gone.

And its time is passing, as our health secretary perfects the trick of throwing up his hands in horror while simultaneously washing them, like a little Tory Pontius Pilate.

Private medicine uses weasel words like 'giving patients a choice', but these are just vested interests masquerading as moral principles. Patients are economic units and the old and chronically ill won't be wanted. Active patients, not too sick and who can have procedures, are ideal. Lying in a bed, being watched, is not a big earner.

And if you do get really sick (and unprofitable), you'll be turfed back to the NHS; looking after sick people, that's what it's for, isn't it?

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell.

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