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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Is NHS care better than we often think?

As the row over Government plans to reform the NHS intensifies, I thought you might like to see this remarkable snapshot of the service, provided by someone with no vested interest in it.

Mike Lawrence is the former boss at Sellafield, a highly-regarded and well-paid man.

He is now back in America, but felt compelled to write to our sister paper The Whitehaven News, detailing the treatment he received from the NHS while he lived and worked here.

He’s not the type who would have any natural empathy with the health service – as he says, he has private health insurance and “the ability to go anywhere in the UK or US for treatment”.

The NHS isn’t perfect and it hasn’t been perfectly run in Cumbria in recent times, but it does work and it is available for all people, at no cost, when they need help most.

It is a service we all too easily take for granted but that should be protected and cherished.

Here is Mr Lawrence’s letter:

FROM April 2009 until I retired at the end of 2010 I was the managing director of the National Nuclear Laboratory headquarters at Sellafield. My wife Cindy and I had the pleasure of living in the locality, near Boot.

As US citizens, we followed news in the States via the internet. In particular, we were very interested in the heated debate that occurred over the Affordable Care Act which sought to provide health insurance to all Americans. The act was eventually passed, however all Republican presidential candidates have vowed to repeal the law, which they derisively call ‘Obamacare’.

During the debate and the current presidential campaign an argument frequently made is “we don’t want to have health care like England”!

They refer to long waits and limited approved treatments. These certainly can be the case, especially in non-urgent situations or treatments with a low probability of success.

Nevertheless, I can only believe that none of the people making these statements have ever experienced the UK National Health Service first hand, as I did.

When I developed blood clots in my lungs after a business trip, my medical care was exceptionally fast and expertly delivered. After seeing Dr Tim Sowton at the Seascale Surgery, regarding shortness of breath, I was sent to the West Cumberland Hospital for tests. Upon reviewing the preliminary results, I was immediately admitted for further testing and diagnostics.

Over the course of that evening and night, four doctors thoroughly questioned me about my symptoms and each progressed my diagnosis.

The next morning they had reached a conclusion regarding the problem and tests were run which confirmed the presence of blood clots in my lungs. A treatment was prescribed and, at my own urging, I was discharged for recovery at home.

The medical services I received at the Seascale Surgery and West Cumberland Hospital were effective and courteous.

While it would not come as a surprise to a UK citizen, I was totally amazed by the fact that I never had to sign my name or produce any form of payment.

Despite having private health insurance and the ability to go anywhere in the UK or the US for treatment, I could not have received better care than that provided by Dr Sowton, at Seascale and by the staff at the West Cumberland Hospital.

Since returning to the States in 2011, I have had further occasion to seek health care. In November I had back surgery to correct sciatica.

I had excellent treatment and the operation was a success. The total cost for this treatment, including a two-night hospital stay, was approximately $100,000 (£62,000).

Fortunately I have health insurance and my out-of-pocket expenses were manageable.

Until the US’s Affordable Health Care Act fully comes into effect, too many Americans would not be covered by health insurance and would have to forego treatment.

At times like this I think about my UK experience, and treatment in Cumbria, and give thanks.

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