The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
US Warned Britain About Its Health System Failures

A US non-profit warned the UK more than four years ago that many British hospitals were doing a terrible job caring for patients, according to a report released in the aftermath of the Stafford Hospital scandal. The Telegraph reports the UK’s Department of Health asked the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, then run by Obama’s former healthcare advisor Dr. Donald Berwick, to investigate the country’s system:

Its 84-page report, which was not published at the time, warned ministers that the NHS did not pay enough attention to quality of care because it was too focused on targets. It concluded that hospitals were “hitting the target and missing the point”.

This report has come to light just as more details about the horrific state of care at Stafford Hospital were made public, including an account of one midwife telling a patient “you are no longer a human being but an animal,” as she dragged him from the bathroom.

Abuses occur in all systems and the best of Britain’s NHS doesn’t look anything like Stafford. But in a system where it’s difficult to fire employees for misconduct and where patients are seen as annoyances rather than customers, things like this can happen more often. A consumer-based health care system is important for many reasons, not the least of which is its ability to empower dissatisfied patients and their families to take their business elsewhere. We also worry about the inevitable push that a government-run health care system would experience to recognize unions and grant civil service style job protection. The thought of Nurse Ratched with civil service protection gives us, we confess, a few qualms.

While Obamacare is not a cookie-cutter imitation of the NHS or anything like it, it does move us away from a consumer-centered system and closer to a UK-style system where patients are forced to take what the bureaucrats and the life-tenured employees choose to give.

No doubt the Obama administration hopes that nudging the American system in a more statist direction won’t lead to all these bad results. We shall see.

[Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.]

Published on February 10, 2013 3:00 pm