Letters & Opinion, Views Of a Conservative

The Wonders of Universal Healthcare

Why the Winter Crisis in England Should be a Warning Sign to Saint Lucians and to Our Leaders

UNIVERSAL Healthcare (UHC) is something highly-sought-after by people who do not live in a country where it’s been implemented. It sounds ideal but most of all is it fair or right? Whether one is rich, or poor, employed or unemployed, with the implementation of universal healthcare, the human “right” to medical care will be made available to all.

Unfortunately, though, this utopian dream promised by both sides of the political aisle in St. Lucia would quickly and surely become a Dystopian nightmare, especially if one were to take into consideration the “winter crisis” currently plaguing England and its very own universal healthcare system, the NHS.

The NHS (National Health Service) is the publicly-funded national healthcare system for England. However, while there are many benefits to universal healthcare, the costs incurred far outweigh those benefits. The NHS is the largest single-payer healthcare system in the world and provides free healthcare at the point of use for everyone, including visitors. Thus, it is a great measuring stick for other universal healthcare systems.

However, according to reports, it is causing what is being dubbed a “winter crisis” in England: a crisis fraught with stories of overworked doctors and nurses and patients who have seen the quality of the healthcare provided plummet.

The St. Lucian taxpayers should also be aware before leaping into the universal healthcare conundrum. The NHS is basically funded by general taxation. They must be aware also that the aforementioned universal healthcare system receives the majority of a budget that is over £110 billion.

As our recent budgets reveal, St. Lucia’s spending hovers about the EC$1.5 billion mark, an amount our country is already failing to cover with our current tax rates, even after they are combined with the foreign aid we receive. If St. Lucians are already complaining about their taxes now, wait until a universal healthcare system is implemented.

Despite the ticking economic time bomb the implementation of a universal healthcare system could be for this country, the worst consequences may not be economic, but humanitarian.

One problem with universal healthcare is the sheer burden it places on doctors and nurses at their respective hospitals. Oftentimes, because of the number of patients checking in, the hospitals quickly become understaffed and, therefore, the quality of care automatically declines. This trickles down to the patients and the quality of treatment they receive, becoming a potential humanitarian disaster.

When even a country like England, which provides tens of billions of pounds to help fund its own version of universal healthcare, finds that even that amount is not enough, we should sit up and take note.

Take, for example, this report in the Guardian entitled “Medical students urged to volunteer as NHS winter crisis worsens”. Here we see the impact more clearly. In the aforementioned story, the Guardian reports that “Medical students are being urged to help relieve the NHS winter crisis…” Why? Well, because “hospitals are so short-staffed they are struggling to cope with the surge in patients…”

But why would a multi-billion pound funded system be short-staffed? Simply put, it is the nature of the universal healthcare beast. No amount of money will be enough to quell its hunger for more and more spending.

Also, the fact that medical students are being urged (compelled) to provide medical assistance is a major problem. Most times, those students aren’t quite ready, so the quality of care drops dramatically. This is why the British Medical Association, per the same Guardian report, called the asking of “students who had not qualified in medicine to assist with…severely ill patients” “a desperate measure” which in fact which puts “patients at risk.”

If a country which spends over a 100 billion pounds on healthcare to fund its universal healthcare system (NHS) is incapable of affording enough staff to cope with the overwhelming number of patients checking in, to the point where heads of medical universities have to “[write] to students…to enlist support in tackling the NHS’s “national crisis”, what chance does our country have, with its paltry billion-dollar budget (EC, no less) to fund such an expensive venture? It is madness to even consider it without taking into account the massive cost.

And what about the quality of care? Already our publicly-funded hospitals have a bad reputation on that front. Think about how much more of a problem it will become if we place the added burden of universal healthcare upon them and our already overworked and underpaid doctors and nurses. The patients will suffer and the masses will complain.

Everyone is clamouring for UHC now, but they have not considered the many consequences it brings, even to countries far greater economically than our own. When a country such as England has reached a point of such desperation that they’re asking “students…not qualified in medicine” to tend to “severely ill patients” all because of the physical and economic burden placed upon its enormous budget by UHC, what chance do we have to avoid suffering a far worse fate?

In a Daily Mail article entitled: “Shocking photographs show patients ‘forced to lie on the FLOOR with people stepping over them’” the reality of the declining quality of care in UHC, is graphically depicted. The introductory paragraph of that piece reads: “Patients are being forced to sleep on floors with people stepping over them at a busy hospital in West Yorkshire…”

The woman who photographed the ordeal said: “People were sitting around in chairs, shivering. In 2018, people should not have to sleep on the floor without either a pillow or a blanket. If you were in prison, you would be offered a pillow and a blanket — and a bed.”

When the conditions in a hospital in England are described as worse than those in a prison, conditions brought about by the implementation of UHC, St. Lucia should take heed.

This firsthand account of some of the problems that doctors encounter from NHS is quite telling. Here are some quotes from a doctor, cited in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner from an article entitled “Exhausted hospital doctor fears killing someone amid NHS winter crisis”.

“As I’m sure you are aware, nationally the NHS is on its knees.”

“Morale among staff is currently very low – we are doing our best but are getting very tired and fed up with the system.” And what system is the doctor referring to? The NHS, which is England’s UHC system. Doctors tend to be fed up with it because it promises healthcare for all, without the means to provide it.

“We are aware substandard care is being given – but on the frontline there is very little we can do about it.”

Clearly, this isn’t just the doctors refusing to treat patients. They are rendered incapable of doing so because the demands made upon them are too great.

“Whilst I was helping with the ward rounds I was unable to do jobs such as blood tests, cannulas, ordering scans, discharge summaries and seeing new patients who had arrived in the department.”

“I worked 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. both days and had a ten-minute break for a sandwich during that time because I insisted on eating.”

“I found it difficult to concentrate towards the end and was terrified of making a mistake that would cause harm to a patient, which could result in a medico legal case if they decided to sue or losing my medical registration.”

In the above, the doctor points out that the near impossible hours he is forced to work (8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.), for instance, may just cause him to make a “mistake that would cause harm to a patient.” Therefore, not only does UHC become the cause of sub-par care, it may actively cause harm to the patients it’s supposed to cover, simply because the very human doctors employed with this task are just not capable of keeping up with its impossible demands.

However, the problems don’t stop there. Take note also of the “medico legal” cases our doctors, nurses and hospitals could get caught up in because of possible malpractice; malpractice caused in large part by the impractical demands of UHC. As pointed out by the English doctor, the chances of harming a patient go up with UHC. Patients, understandably, would be well within their rights to sue, leading to the publicly-funded hospitals paying court fees and most likely money to patients who were harmed through malpractice.

Of course, keep in mind that the hospitals of UHC would be publicly-funded, meaning the Government would have to pay these fees, meaning the taxpayer who is already burdened with the demands of UHC would have to pay these fees. Is this really a price this country is willing to pay just so it can say it provides all of its citizens with healthcare when that would not be the reality on the ground?

The previous Labour Administration promised to implement UHC and this current U.W.P. administration has promised to do likewise (with minor difference in implementation), as evidenced by the previous Governor General’s Throne Speech last year when she said: “My Government (the UWP Administration) has declared its objective of ensuring that we have a universal health service that delivers high quality care in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

However, as this article has already proven, it is impossible for a universal health service to deliver “high quality care” in a “cost-effective manner.” There quite simply is nothing cost-effective about UHC, not just in St. Lucia, but even in first world countries like the U.K.

In that very Throne Speech, the former Governor General also said that: “My Government’s vision for building a new Saint Lucia is based on the need to lift our beloved country out of the quagmire of economic stagnation…” But how is the implementation of “a universal health service” supposed to accomplish that?

I implore all of St. Lucia’s leaders, of whatever political affiliation, to consider the economic and humanitarian cost of implementing UHC in this already impoverished country. If mighty England and all its riches cannot cope with it, how can we?

Dean Nestor is from Choiseul but from young adulthood, his years were spent in Castries. He studied at St. Mary’s College from 1999 to 2004 and later pursued a college education in English Literature, History and Sociology at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College from 2004 to 2006.

After graduating from Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, he began working as a teacher from 2009 until 2016...Read full bio...


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