Britain's No Model for U.S. Health Care

I have spent most of the last month in the UK. From this vantage point I have watched on Fox the debate in the U.S. over the Democrats' desire to transform the way we care for the sick and elderly. Many opponents of the House plan (President Obama and the senate do not yet have one) cite the way the British deal with their sick and elderly and warn that America could become like Britain. Those critics are right to worry.

Just last week, the Times of London reported that "hospitals creak under the strain as vacancies spread through NHS (National Health Service)."

The socialized medicine practices here has brought a shortage of doctors, nurses and other clinical staff.As of March 31, a survey found a 5.2 percent vacancy rate in these critical fields. This compares to a 3.6 percent vacancy rate just one year earlier.

Qualified nurses and midwifes are retiring at a faster rate than newly trained staff can enter these professions. And a poll conducted by the Royal College of Nurses found that among 8,600 young people, aged 7 to 17, only one in 20 would actively consider nursing an attractive career.

Anthony Halperin, a Trustee of the Patients Association, says: "Nursing staff see that there are higher rewards in the private sector while doctors and dentists no longer see medicine as a career for life, or are having their hours cut back by European legislation. All of this has negative outcomes for patients."

Any sensible person wishing to model America's health care system after Britain and Canada ought to thoroughly examine how those systems have turned out before plunging into the same pool. A reasonable and rational conclusion would be that they are sicker than the patients they treat, after a suitable waiting period, of course. And even then, patients get treated only if they meet certain government "guidelines," which is precisely the situational ethics foundation President Obama wishes to create for Americans.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America". Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.