Monday, July 30, 2012

Dancing NHS Doctors

I've never been too interested in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, because I want to get to the athletics, which always impress me. But I watched the ceremony from London this year out of curiosity, and I was pleasantly surprised. 

One part of Danny Boyle's loud and quirky vision of England in the opening ceremony especially struck me: his depiction of the U.K.'s National Health Service as an institution worth celebrating. Those were actual NHS doctors and nurses, swing dancing around a sea of children in beds in the middle of the stadium. It's hard to imagine American doctors and nurses acting so gleeful, as the pressure to reduce costs collides with the complex needs of an increasingly unhealthy population and the uncertainties about how health care reform will play out here. Meanwhile, states such as Oklahoma, for example, are fighting against government-mandated health insurance and turning down grants to help implement it.

The single-payer NHS in the U.K., designed to address inequities in health care, especially among the poor, was first instituted in 1948. Today, the service, paid for through taxes and individual fees, covers all British citizens with health care, dental care, and limited vision care. Infant mortality statistics, often used to rate the health of a country, demonstrate the success of the NHS. In 2011, infant mortality in the U.K. was 4.6 per 1,000 live births, according to the CIA's World Factbook estimate, while the U.S. rate is 6 per 1,000 live births (for comparison, Afghanistan had the highest rate in 2011, at 121.6 per 1,000 live births; Monaco had the lowest, 1.8 per 1,000 live births). Life expectancy at birth, another key health indicator, is estimated at 80.2 years in the United Kingdom and 78.5 years in the U.S.

Will our own health care system ever be celebrated on an international stage? It's hard to imagine that happening right now, but I hope we will reach that point some day.