American liberals such as Sen. Bernie Sanders like to tout socialized healthcare systems such as Britain's for spending less and covering everybody, but here's a reality check you shouldn't expect to hear in any of his fiery speeches: the British government-run National Health Service has abruptly canceled 50,000 nonemergency surgeries due to overcrowding at hospitals this winter.
Sanders, I-Vt., has lamented that the United States "ends up spending almost three times per capita what they do in the UK," which is "guaranteeing healthcare to all people." Yet here is what life is like for those living in the supposedly more humane system, as reported by the Telegraph:
Every hospital in the country has been ordered to cancel all non-urgent surgery until at least February in an unprecedented step by NHS officials.
The instructions on Tuesday night - which will see result in around 50,000 operations being axed - followed claims by senior doctors that patients were being treated in “third world” conditions, as hospital chief executives warned of the worst winter crisis for three decades.
Hospitals are reporting growing chaos, with a spike in winter flu leaving frail patients facing 12-hour waits, and some units running out of corridor space.
The nation's health secretary, Jeremy Hunt has defended the move as “a planned, methodical, thoughtful” approach. He told Sky News, "We recognize that it is better, if you are unfortunately going to have to cancel or postpone some operations, to do it in a planned way … Although if you are someone whose operation has been delayed I don’t belittle that for one moment and indeed I apologize to everyone who that has happened to." He went on to praise the "heroic" efforts of NHS workers.
As the American Left tries to push single-payer into the forefront of the national conversation, it's important to have a real conversation about the tradeoffs involved. In the U.K., having the government "guarantee" healthcare while trying to contain costs results in strained medical services, turning one of the largest economies in the world into a "third world"-like environment. The NHS "guarantee" doesn't always translate into actual access to care when you need it. The other option is to throw more money at the system, in which case single-payer becomes much more costly than promised. It's also worth thinking about the cultural component. Do we think Americans are going to stand for a system in which government officials cancel surgeries en masse based on bureaucratic judgments about what is urgent and go on TV to offer inadequate apologies?