GLASGOW, Scotland | The ransomware cyberattack that wormed its way into at least 74 countries recently exposed new vulnerabilities in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), as if it weren’t vulnerable enough.
Hospital systems in England and Scotland were taken off-line. Major operations were delayed, causing frustration and additional worry to patients who spoke to TV interviewers. Sky News technology correspondent Tom Cheshire asked why the affected NHS trusts were not up to date. The answer he received from an information technology source inside NHS was: “They patched nothing generally.”
Mr. Cheshire wrote: “Staff working to keep systems up to date were ‘crushed’ — by a lack of organizational understanding and money.” After an investigation last year into cybersecurity in the NHS, “We found that some trusts spent no money whatsoever on cybersecurity. The white hat hackers we worked with found serious vulnerabilities just at first glances. Those failings have now been exposed. And it’s patients who are paying the price.”
Failure to protect its computers and patient records is one of many problems within the NHS. These problems contain warnings for Americans pushing for single payer health insurance, which could likely lead to health care dispensed by the federal government. Should that occur, Washington almost certainly will ration care based on a utilitarian view of the value of human life.
Last week, the London Times reported a dim future for the NHS. According to “leaked estimates,” (the White House isn’t the only place affected by leaks), more than 5 million people could be stuck on waiting lists for treatment over the next two years. “The number of patients waiting more than four months for surgery,” writes the Times, “could more than double to 800,000 by 2019.” If that happens, it will likely cause even more deaths that might have been prevented under a different and market-oriented health care system.
There’s more. The Daily Telegraph reports that the number of people waiting at least a week to see a general practitioner has risen from 13.8 percent to 19.3 percent in just three years. And “more than 250,000 patients have been displaced by surgery [medical center] closures in the last year, a five-fold rise since 2013.”
The Conservative Party in the United Kingdom had promised to recruit 5,000 new doctors by 2020. Instead, the number has fallen by 400.
Many doctors are retiring or leaving the profession, creating gaps the NHS has been unable to fulfill. There has been a rise in the number of doctors “going private,” as they are able to make more money than in the government system.
Junior doctors have been offered bonuses to train as general practitioners and in a sign of desperation, the government is seeking to entice medics from Lithuania, Poland and Greece to come to the United Kingdom.
It is a mystery why so many people in the United Kingdom and in the United States continue to put their faith in government when it has such a poor record of accomplishment. We can’t even win wars anymore. The television news programs in the United Kingdom carry stories about the government this and the government that, as if there is no other source to which one can turn to improve the level of medical care, or anything else.
This cultlike faith is causing harm to patients and needs to stop. Providing “free” health care to all United Kingdom residents has diminished the quality of care for all. Competition and a market-based approach would be better than the current inferior system.
As with most things, the wealthy can go to private doctors, or visit the United States and other countries for higher quality and faster treatment. Those with fewer resources must rely on a system that increasingly resembles the stereotypical doctor who tells a patient, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” If you can get through, that is.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).
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