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‘The UK is lucky when it comes to healthcare spending... isn’t it?’

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Do you remember when you were a kid and your mum ordered you to eat your dinner, and your default response was, “I don’t want my dinner, because it’s a potato with mince near it, and looks like an iceberg surrounded by a sewage leak.” And your mum would shout, “Eat your dinner!” Then you’d say, “I’m not eating it! Give it to the cat!” Then she’d point out you didn’t have a cat and you’d say, “I’m not surprised if you want to feed it this.”

And finally she would say that there are children in the world who would love that dinner, before you respond with, “Well, let’s send it to them!”  And then you’d feel bad, because you couldn’t package potato and mince and put it in the mail. 

Remember that? Well I’ve noticed I am becoming my mum. Not where mince is concerned, but in other things. For instance, I am trying to notice that sometimes things are worse for others and that I am lucky – we have food, a roof, good health, we do an awful lot of laughing, even if some of it is born of bemusement. I say things that amount to ‘count your blessings’ now far more than I used to. Part of me thinks, ‘Yes, it is important to notice your good fortune’, but another thinks, ‘Oh shut up you banana-headed buffoon, your country and the people in it are being ripped off and calm acceptance can look a lot like acquiescence’.

Take, for example, healthcare funding. We might feel we are underfunded in the UK ($3,235 per capita) but in comparison to, say, India ($147) we are certainly not. So we are lucky in a sense, aren’t we? It would be crass and disrespectful not to notice that.

But perhaps it would also be crass not to notice that Ireland, New Zealand, Finland and Japan ($3,768) have more investment per person than we do. Well done Finland! I suspect you are too nice to look down on us.

Indeed, I wonder if there is a nice Japanese family somewhere – one that benefits from $500 a year per person greater investment in health than we do – waiting for their doctor to arrange a weekend checkup, saying to each other, “We are very lucky to live here. We could live in a country like Indonesia, Turkey, India or the UK.” 

“Shhh,” says the mother, “Don’t scare the children.”

Now of course someone will say that all healthcare systems are different, and it isn’t how much you invest that matters so much as what you get for your dollars. And there is no doubt that you can get a lot for your dollars in the UK – certainly in terms of professionalism, skill, commitment, training and expertise.

However, we need to be careful not to insult the talents in countries that spend (quite) a bit more. Luxemburg ($4,371), for example, Canada ($4,429) or Sweden ($4,907). These are skilful people too and one imagines they may feel under less constant pressure with money to employ more of them, resources to ensure services are not stretched and proper professional

support even.

And then I notice myself again. I don’t want to be an acquisitive person and in fairness I’m not. I just want the things I believe mark us out as civilised, and maybe even progressive, to be properly funded, and for the language used by the mainstream media when describing healthcare economics to be less politically weighted. 

Because if Germany ($5,002) The Netherlands ($5,217) and Norway ($6,177) are spending 50% more per person on healthcare than we are – and we are not a poor country – the only word that really describes that is not ‘deficit’ or ‘overspend’. It is underfunded. 


 Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on Twitter @markacradcliffe



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