The appalling record of Britain’s National Health Service in dealing with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed the country’s false pride, ignorance and arrogance about the NHS in striking contrast with that of Russia and Germany.
It is often commented that after the exhausted and bankrupt British were forced to give up their enormous global empire after World War II, they comforted themselves – very much in the manner of a spoiled and immature child sucking his or her favorite frozen sweet – by assuring each other that they had the most advanced and impressive free health care service in the world.
It was never true. Even at its best, the NHS was always in reality a byword of bureaucratic incompetence and shameful inefficiency. Two close British friends of mine over the years died tragically decades before their time because of ludicrous and inexcusable bungles by the NHS system.
One of them, an outstanding Foreign Office diplomat, the night after he was admitted to a NHS hospital after suffering a heart attack, was denied the use of a cardiac monitor although one was easily available and he died of a second attack that very night, He was still only in his 40s.
The second, a lawyer working in the Middle East actually returned to London to get what should have been a routine heart defect taken care of. His faith in the NHS killed him: They bungled the routine procedure and he died on the operating table.
My own father was lucky to survive the bungles of the NHS. In his 50s, he entered a hospital to have a hernia fixed. The surgeons bungled the minor routine procedure so he had to go back in for a second operation. This time they fixed the hernia, but forgot to remove one of the surgical implements. He had to return to the hospital for a third operation to get the surgical tool removed from his body.
The British people take for granted delays of months and years to have routine procedures carried out. Lack of resources is not the problem. The annual budget provided to the NHS is greater than the GDP of many of the member states in the United Nations.
When the NHS was launched in 1948 it had a budget of £437 million (equivalent to £16.01 billion in 2019). In 2016–2017, the budget was £122.5 billion .In 2015/16 it was nearly 30 percent of the public services budget.
Now the NHS in both provided services and recorded death tolls ahs proven itself woefully unable to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. (It should come as no surprise that before the real pandemic struck, the British rated themselves among the best prepared nations in the world to deal with such a crisis. They especially despised Russia and China, both of which in reality have experienced far lower numbers of deaths in per capita terms and in Russia’s case in terms of absolute numbers of cases and deaths.
British health planners agreed on the same catastrophic policy that the Democratic governors of major U.S. states, primarily New York, California and New Jersey followed in shunting COVID-19 patients into regular nursing and retirement homes for the elderly causing the original inmates to contract the virus and die like flies.
As I write, Britain, with a population of 65 million has recorded 41,500 deaths from COVID-19. Russia has only suffered less than 16,000, according to figures from the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University. Germany, with a population only one fifth larger than Britain’s , has suffered a mere 9,250 deaths.
The NHS’s appalling record in dealing with COVID-19 also stands in striking contrast to the successes of Russia and Germany.
The model of Germany, roughly comparable in size to Britain is especially instructive: Unlike Britain, Germany is not an island but is located in the heart of continental Western Europe and therefore should be more vulnerable to the pandemic and far less easy to quarantine. However, Germany has the benefit in reality of what Britain has falsely claimed to have had for the past 70 years – a genuinely efficient, humane and well run national health system.
Nor did the Germans copy it from the British, They enjoyed it for 65 years and through two world wars (both of which they lost) before Britain’s NHS was even founded.
The German national health system was founded in 1883 and its primary architect was the great statesman Otto von Bismarck. It was the first comprehensive national health service of any major industrialized nation. It became the model within a few years for smaller, similarly successful services in most of the small nations of northwestern Europe. Even Israel’s much praised health service was copied directly from Bismarck’s model.
The German service is also far better run and vastly cheaper to operate than Britain’s. It cost $368.78 billion (287.3 billion euros) in 2010, equivalent to 11.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) or about one quarter the cost of the NHS. And its results speak for themselves: In 2004 Germany ranked thirtieth in the world in life expectancy (78 years for men). Britain claimed a life expectancy for men of 80 years before the pandemic hit though even then, there was good cause to be skeptical about that claim.
Bismarck did not just create the world’s first great comprehensive health service for a major industrialized nation. He was a similar successful pioneer in terms of unemployment insurance and comprehensive social security payments for the retired as well. Britain only started to follow Germany in those two areas 30 years later before World War I and the United States had to wait until 1940 for Social Security payments to start dribbling to the survivors of the Great Depression.
To this day, U.S. systems in all three areas of national health care, social security for the elderly and unemployment payments remain woefully inferior to those of Germany and many other nations. Yet when Senator Bernie Sanders repeatedly pointed out this elementary, obvious and shameful truth repeatedly in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential campaigns he was accused of being a sinister extremist.
In Britain, to this day Otto von Bismarck is taught as a precursor of Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler: The start of a descent into barbarism aggression that inflicted untold miseries on the world.
In reality he raised up Germany from centuries of repeated conquest, ravaging and mass rape of its women at the hands of France and economic plundering by England and then created a peaceful, stable system until the idiocies of Wilhelm II and French hatred put Europe on the path to world war. He pioneered the operation of social services to protect the sick, the elderly and the poor on a national scale that solved the worst pathologies of industrialized modern societies.
The shameful failures of the National Health Service and British society under the Audit of Pandemic in 2020 should serve as a wake up call that British society is far indeed from being the happiest, most stable and most perfect in the world, as they repeatedly try to convince themselves.
Instead of obsessively trying to remake themselves into a caricature of a United States itself in deep crisis, the British would do better to seek better relations and cultivate an attitude of genuine respect for such nations as Russia and Germany.
They have much to learn. And not much time left to do it.