Monday, August 13, 2012

An NHS Patriot

And now in honor of the close of the London Olympics, my tribute to the NHS...

"We're always trying to give the NHS as much publicity as possible in a positive light." -- Sarah Parish

I first became familiar with actress Sarah Parrish when I watched the miniseries Pillars of the Earth. Loved her performance as the evil Lady Hamleigh! More recently she gave an outstanding performance as Levicy Hatfield opposite Kevin Costner in the Emmy-nominated miniseries, Hatfields and McCoys. Sarah lives with her real life actor husband, James Murray, in Southampton, England. I met them in Vancouver last year where James was working on a TV series with my husband.

As a proud supporter of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, Sarah was enthusiastic about sharing her viewpoint on the British health care system with me. So we met up one day for tea and a chat about the NHS.

"Our first daughter was born with a severe congenital cardiac condition," Sarah began. "She would have died immediately had it not been for the outstanding care from the pediatric cardiology department at Southampton General Hospital." She continued, "The NHS had everything we needed."

"So, you don't have private health insurance?" I asked. "I don't want to buy into it," she responded. "You have to invest in the NHS for it to work-- That's the way I'm politically inclined," Sarah said firmly.

I took a sip of tea while I let that sink in.  "Do most high earners have private health care benefits?" I asked. Sarah thought they probably did. She attributed that to the tendency for people to believe if they pay more money they're going to receive superior care. But in her opinion, "You might get it quicker but you're not going to get any better care."

Sarah stated that you see the same doctors whether you have NHS coverage or private insurance. "The pride doctors take in working for the NHS is what makes it so special."

A little research on my part confirmed strong resistance on the part of British doctors' to the recently passed Health and Social Care law, which moves toward expanded privatization and disparities in care based on ability to pay. The British Medical Association, in fact, said that the relationship between family doctors and patients will suffer irreparable damage and that the reforms will be "irreversibly damaging to the NHS". Health care professionals have actually created a political party, the National Health Action Party, to fight the changes to the National Health Service. The voting was mainly along party lines with Labour voting against it and Conservatives and many Liberal Democrats voting for it. According to Sarah, right-wing and coalition governments are always a bum deal for the NHS, "Things get privatized, funds cut." 

Any experience with those waiting lists we hear about so much in the US? Sarah told me about her father's bout with colon cancer. Yes, he had to wait. In fact, his surgery was postponed at one point because someone with a more urgent condition took his place. From diagnosis to operation ended up being about two months. It caused the family some anxiety but everything ended up fine.

The system prioritizes the urgency of surgeries. Usually the system works. But of course, on occasion, Sarah said, "Mistakes are going to be made."

Getting back to health care cuts, Sarah and James have a particular concern about the threat to eliminate the pediatric cardiology departments in some of England's public hospitals. The program at the Southampton hospital where their daughter received such good treatment may be going under the knife. They have embarked on a public campaign to fight it.

Sarah said they like to be public about their use of the NHS, saying that when people learn that high profile actors are using the public system, "They figure if it's good enough for them [Sarah and James], it's good enough for us."

Outside the windows of the marina-side restaurant, a beautiful afternoon beaconed and we gathered our belongings to leave. "That's really quite something that you would forgo the convenience of the private system to support the NHS," I said admiringly. Sarah flashed me a confident smile and said, "You have to support your country."