We’ve been hearing a lot of squabbling about the concept of Universal Healthcare from the United States over the last year. The Obama Administration, attempting to create cheap, equitable and affordable access to doctors and hospitals for all Americans, has been met headlong by the might of the insurance industry. The insurance companies, terrified of having their cash flow dramatically slashed, have whipped Middle America into a frenzy by pulling out that old bogeyman, the dreaded spectre of ‘socialism’.
Our own Kevin, never one to be left out of such matters, has been trumpeting his own ideas about what he’d like to do to the healthcare system in this country.
It’s a hot topic.
One of the consistent messages trumpeted by commentators in both in the Land of the Free and here in Australia is that reform is ‘just too hard’, that the system is so completely broken, that no amount of work from the government can fix things.
The foundation of Britain’s National Health Service proves that such a thing is possible. Hell, I’d go so far to say that, considering the circumstances, it proves that *anything* is possible.
You see, the National Health Service — or NHS — was not founded in a time of peace and prosperity. It didn’t have the weight of a booming economy behind it. It was not the result of ‘Good Times’. The NHS was a direct result of one of the darkest times in the history of the United Kingdom, the Second World War.
It was a time of constant bombing raids by German forces that pulverized some of the country’s largest cities. We’re talking about a country terrified of invasion — one clear night, calm sea and submarine-free English Channel away from Operation Sea Lion. Not an ideal time to visit, by any means.
Somehow, between the exploding masonry, the devastated streets and the raging fires, the British kept themselves together. They worked together as volunteers on anti-aircraft guns, as air raid wardens, as nurses and ambulance drivers. This pluck and determination to get on with the job was not ignored. Indeed, it was noticed by the government who by 1942 had, quite cheekily, begun to draw up plans for what the UK would look like after the war was won. More specifically, they focused on looking after the health of society.
This is because since the Dark Ages until the 1940s, healthcare had been more privilege than right. Were you be able to pull a few groats together, you might be able to get a doctor to bleed your ills away or apply some quackish poultice. You wouldn’t die straight away, that’s for sure. Were you poor, you just had to deal with it, until disease or illness claimed you. That usually wasn’t very long, though.
However, by the time of the Second World War, the Powers That Be had decided that having a society that wasn’t constantly sick, crippled or near death wasn’t such a good idea. To that end, they commissioned a fellow by the name of William Beveridge to undertake a report on the insurance offered to workers. Beveridge went off, along with his staff and evaluated what was available in terms of social insurance and allied health services. In time, he came back with a group of recommendations in a document known as, funnily enough, the Beveridge Report .
These major recommendations were, to say the least, pretty much unlike anything that had become before. Head in the clouds stuff. Beveridge recommended, first, that social insurance shouldn’t be restricted to just workers. If you REALLY wanted to improve the health of a nation, give insurance to everyone — man, woman and child, employed and unemployed.
The second recommendation was that insurance was just one part of a much larger whole — insurance, healthcare and welfare were going to be the things that brought England out of the ashes of the war.
The final recommendation was that any system should be secured by small contributions from the working population in the form of taxes. What was perhaps more amazing than Beveridge’s recommendations was the speed with which the recommendations were taken up. Having won the war, still deeply in debt to the United States, the British Government began building hospitals, clinics and services for the post-war population.
On July 5, 1948, the National Health Service was unveiled, giving near-equitable access to every Briton. This was less than five years after the defeat of Germany and Japan. This was a truly monumental achievement.
Despite a few blips, the National Health Service has continued to serve Britons since the war’s end. Sure, sometimes they’ve made people pay for prescriptions, dentists and opticians, but on the whole you’re likely to come out of a NHS hospital stay without having to mortgage the house to pay hospital bills, as many Americans have had to when faced with accidents or illness.
So, universal healthcare isn’t the pipe dream that many think. If a war-ravaged, debt-ridden nation can do it in the space of six years, why can’t the United States? Maybe, as in the case with the Great Depression piece, working together and co-operation is the key.
That and a little can-do attitude, pom-style!