I lived in America for 55 years and can tell you that the NHS is a much better healthcare system – Joe Goldblatt

The biggest reason for personal bankruptcy in the US is the inability to pay medical bills, like the extra cost of giving birth prematurely, writes Joe Goldblatt.

A surgical care practitioner prepares for the operating theatre  (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)
A surgical care practitioner prepares for the operating theatre (Picture: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

The recent almost constant barrage of criticism for Scotland’s NHS is detrimental to the future of this critical service for our country. Over 160,000 Scottish NHS workers are listening to this almost daily war of words and it cannot be considered anything but damaging to their morale. Therefore, I shall not join this chorus of critical abuse and this is perhaps because I was a patient in the US for-profit healthcare system for 55 years and the difference between the two systems is so dramatically different in terms of cost and quality of care.

The largest reason for personal bankruptcy filings in the USA is the inability to pay medical bills. Imagine a young mum who delivers her baby a few weeks earlier than expected and faces weeks of critical care for her child and, at the same time, the bill collectors from the hospital are literally knocking her door down for payment. Imagine a young father who suffers from cancer and is shuffled from hospital to hospital until his insurance company agrees to cover his care. Imagine a granny who develops a rare form of blood disease and requires a rare medication to survive and to live without pain. She must find over £2,000 per month to pay for her medications as they are not covered by her insurance plan. These tragically true stories were recounted to me from US family and friends in the past year.

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By contrast, the Scottish NHS provides a free medical service at the point of care and free prescriptions. In addition, the Scottish NHS has merged social care with healthcare to create a system of total support for our patients. Every interaction I have experienced with Scotland’s NHS has provided me and my family with reassurance and the highest quality of care. Here are two examples.

A compassionate listen ear

My wife was suddenly taken ill and brought to A&E. She was seen by a consultant and released with medication to treat her ailment. When I arrived home there was a voice message waiting from the local surgery offering to provide further help. They had been notified – through the excellent, comprehensive NHS information service – of her condition and were ready to provide ongoing support as part of the caring NHS team.

I experienced a spine operation a few years ago and when I returned home from hospital, I began to feel a little sad and uncomfortable. I contacted my local surgery and a couple of hours later a district nurse came to my flat and provided a compassionate listening ear and recommendations to help me recover as comfortably as possible.

Whether in hospital or at home, the Scottish NHS, in my experience, is superior to any other medical system in the world. I also realise that every patient presents different medical histories and symptoms and one size does not fit all in a system as large as ours.

However, I have been constantly impressed with the quality of care, skill and compassion of Scotland’s NHS workers. All of this exemplary care in Scotland is delivered at half the annual cost of the US system.

Therefore, the recent criticism about the challenges of our system is an anathema to me. Whilst I firmly believe that every service must be rigorously scrutinised to promote continuous improvement, I also realise that our Scottish healthcare system, as compared to others, is truly exceptional.

GP’s long hours a ‘privilege’

Here is one final example. One evening after work I walked by our local surgery and noted the closing time was 6pm. I checked my watch and indeed it was 6pm so I poked my head in their door to see if I could make an appointment for a future date.

A young Scottish NHS doctor greeted me and asked if I would like to be seen and I gratefully accepted her invitation.

My complaint was a simple rash on my arm and I was surprised and delighted how she asked me question after question in order to make a proper diagnosis. She wrote me a prescription and ten minutes later I was on my way.

I thanked her for her care and asked in parting “Is that you done now?” She said, “No, I am now making house calls.” I asked her what time her day had begun and she said she said that she had seen her first patient at 8am after arriving at the surgery at 7am to catch up on paper work.

She then grabbed her little black doctor’s bag and walked to her car. That week we had experienced the “beast from the east” and she tramped through the high snow drifts to reach her car.

As she got into her car, I said “I bet that when you were studying to become a doctor that the teachers did not tell you that one day you would be trudging through the snow to care for patients following a ten-hour day at the office”. And then I thanked her again.

The doctor simply smiled and modestly said to me: “It is a privilege.”

In my experience, it is indeed a privilege to be cared for by our Scottish NHS and I am confident that, through the leadership of our Cabinet Secretary for Health and the 160,000 members of her team, Scotland’s highly skilled, deeply compassionate and remarkably resilient NHS shall continue to grow from strength to strength.

Joe Goldblatt is emeritus professor of planned events at Queen Margaret University and has been a patient of Scotland’s NHS for 13 years.