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Britons rush to defend National Health Service

Britons don’t want Americans to use their health care system as a punching bag in the battle over health care reform.

Associated Press

Britons don’t want Americans to use their health care system as a punching bag in the battle over health care reform.

LONDON — Castigating their public health care system may be a national pastime for the British, but it's not one they care to share with Americans.

Britain's oft-maligned National Health Service on Friday was on the receiving end of an outpouring of love and affection it hasn't felt in years, owing to a growing backlash against what many see as lies and calumnies being spread about the NHS by conservative critics of President Barack Obama's health care reform plan in the United States.

Those critics have branded the NHS as an "evil" and "Orwellian" example of socialized medicine. They blast the system, which offers free health care to all, as an expensive failure that denies new drugs to cancer victims, blocks elderly people from certain kinds of treatment and puts a low value on human life.

But such claims have angered many Britons, who this week hit back in the blogosphere, in print and over the airwaves.

A Twitter campaign to rally support for the NHS has attracted so many thousands of messages that the newly launched "welovetheNHS" site crashed earlier this week. Among the contributors: Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who felt moved to "tweet" his encouragement while vacationing in Scotland.

The NHS "often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death," Brown wrote, adding: "Thanks for always being there."

Not that the British believe their system to be perfect. Before the pendulum swung the other way this week, complaints about waiting lists for hip replacements, the risk of infection by "superbugs" in public hospitals and poor bedside manners of health care personnel were the norm.

But such grumblings were considered a domestic affair. A smear campaign in another country, based on misinformation and falsehoods, is simply not cricket, the British say.

The left-leaning Guardian newspaper devoted an entire page to debunking some of the more scandalous accusations circulating in the United States, including the claim from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that fellow Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., wouldn't receive treatment in Britain for his brain tumor because of his age.

The right-wing tabloid Sun, meanwhile, ran a scathing commentary headlined, "Why Yanks must stop bashing the NHS."

The severely disabled scientist Stephen Hawking declared, "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for the NHS," pointedly rebutting claims by Investor's Business Daily that he "wouldn't have a chance" of survival in his homeland because of treatment rationing.

In addition to defending the NHS from conservative critics in the United States, some in Britain have now gone on the offensive, expressing incredulity that the United States boasts of being a superpower while leaving tens of millions of its people uninsured.

"The United States lies between Costa Rica and Slovenia in the World Health Organization's ranking of health care systems … which puts them in 37th place," Dr. Keith Hopcroft wrote in the Sun's commentary piece. "The U.K.? 18th. I rest my doctor's case."


National Health Service

was launched

1 million

Patients treated every 36 hours

1.5 million

People employed

169 billion

NHS budget, in dollars

Britons rush to defend National Health Service 08/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 10:18pm]
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