End of Life Care
The Joys of Britain’s Single-Payer Health Care

Something is rotten in the NHS: Julie Mellor, the UK’s Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, has released a report finding that “hundreds of thousands” die in miserable circumstances because the NHS’s end-of-life care can be “appalling.” The report, which draws on the complaints of family members, describes a system in which palliative care is neglected, medication administered incorrectly, and the dying go unserved because of state mandated limits on working hours. Here’s Mellor:

“Our investigations have found that patients have spent their last days in unnecessary pain, people have wrongly been denied their wish to die at home and that poor communication between staff and families has meant that people were unable to say goodbye to their loved ones,” she said. “We are publishing this insight so the NHS can consider the lessons to help prevent similar cases from happening again.”

It’s not the first time we’ve heard accounts like this coming out of the UK. The Stafford scandal in 2013 saw reports of horrifying conditions in one hospital in Staffordshire, which may not have been an isolated incident. By one estimation, patients in the UK are 45 percent more likely to die than those in the U.S.

Mellor’s assessment doesn’t prove that single payer is the worst of all possible systems, nor does mean the U.S. doesn’t have its own very real health care failings. And this report doesn’t touch on the issue of cost, which is one of the main metrics on which single payer advocates like to favorably compare other systems to the U.S.

What it does mean, however, is that merely switching the U.S. over to a UK-style health care system isn’t a panacea. Deep systematic health care problems are just as much of a challenge in single-payer systems as they are here.

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