Our Champions at NHS Scotland versus USA

Five time Olympic Medal Winner Mary Lou Retton

Professor Joe Goldblatt

I recently invested £314.00 ($400.00) in travel insurance for a one week visit to the USA to attend a wedding. When I inquired why this cost was so high the helpful customer service representative said “There are a combination of factors. One being your age (71) and the most important is that the USA has the highest cost of medical care in the world.”

This week the well loved and highly respected Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton reconfirmed this high cost by revealing that she had cancelled her health insurance because it was unaffordable for her family because she had many pre – existing conditions. Sadly, she recently suffered a major medical catastrophe when she contracted pneumonia and ended up in hospital for an extended period. Without insurance she would have had serious medical bills had it not been for the kindness of many strangers who contributed nearly £353,000.00 ($450.000.00) to an online campaign launched by her daughters to aleviate her severe debt,

In contrast, this week I also had a minor medical problem when I returned home from my visit to the USA with a gastrointestinal ailment. I phoned NHS 24 at 111 and within fifteen minutes a helpful gentleman took my medical history and said that a nurse would ring me back soon. Ten minutes later a nurse rang me and asked further questions and then said she was routing my call and case to my local Lothian NHS health board for immediate attention.

Within fifteen minutes the NHS Lothian Health board representative called me and said she had scheduled an appointment for me in one hour at the Royal Infirmary out patient clinic. I told her that I did not wish to add to the travails of the Royal Infirmary and that I was starting to feel a wee bit better. She then offered to have an out of hours doctor ring me.

About twenty minutes later a kindly, compassionate, and obviously highly skilled doctor called me and made several recommendations concluding with that I ring my local general practioner for a routine visit appointment. I made this call the following morning and was immediately scheduled for a call back telephone appointment by the local surgery on the same morning.

The contrast between this integrated health service and the catastrophe that one of the world’s best loved athletes experience is indeed stark. The immediate cost of my comprehensive care from five different health care professonals delivered within twenty – four hours was of course free at the point of care. I realise my taxes are higher in Scotland than in the USA where many loop holes exist to reduce the basic rate. However, when I have an medical problem, as I did last evening, I have no fear of the additional worry and burden of being slammed with a major medical bill.

Furthermore, with one telephone call to NHS 24 I was immediately welcomed into a comprehensive system staffed by experienced, skilled, highly trained, and compassionate health care professionals whose carefully coordinated efforts helped insure my confidence and led to my rapid recovery. This in itself is what I often describe as the miracle of the modern NHS Scotland system.

Whilst I realise there are challenges with NHS Scotland I believe they pale in comparison to those of the USA Olympic gold medal winner who was hospitalised twice in two different instituions to obtain a proper diagnosis and then forced to turn to total strangers to help pay her medical bills that in short time rose to nearly half a million pounds.

Once again in my morning prayers today I gratefully said “God bless the Scottish NHS.” As is said in old Scots often at the start of a new year, “Lang may yer lums reek!” (Long may your chimneys smoke!) Long may NHS Scotland continue to effectively care and provide that care free at the point of service.

Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland. His views are his own and do not represent any other individual or organisation. To read more of his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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