I should say from the outset that I do not believe a centralised, taxpayer-funded, government-provided healthcare system is the optimal way to deliver healthcare to a population, though I do appreciate the reasons behind the founding of the NHS, and acknowledge that it does deliver generally satisfactory results when compared with other systems, including the various times throughout my life when I have used the service.
I think that the American “best healthcare system in the world!” method is far worse, and that having a concentration of the world’s best medical facilities does not make up for the fact that these world class resources remain off limits to the vast majority of the population with insufficient insurance coverage to pay for them. I also believe that while ObamaCare fixes some of American healthcare’s most egregious flaws (the huge number of uninsured and the ability of health insurance providers to screw their customers), it leaves other problems (the link between health insurance and employers, for example) totally untouched.
Anyway. Since we do have a national health service in Britain, and that consequently healthcare spending must compete with the myriad of other government and departmental priorities from education to national defence, I would hope we could all agree that since the NHS isn’t going anywhere any time soon (being a realist), it should be made to work as efficiently as possible, the levels of spending on it should be justified in terms of tangible outcomes, and equally that the monies which are spent on other areas, to the detriment of healthcare spending, should be able to be justified by the government of the day.
What does all of this have to do with foreign aid, and the money that the British government spends on aid to developing countries?
Well, as right-leaning blogger Guido Fawkes reports today, Prime Minister David Cameron has just been schooled on this very point as he participated in a radio talk show for LBC:
In this video clip, David Cameron is confronted by a caller who (while details of the case are clearly lacking), appears to be in great distress because the additional course of treatment for her cancer is not covered by the NHS, and consequently the potentially life-saving treatment is unavailable to her. He responds, of course, in meaningless soundbites and platitudes, but the look on his face – much as when Gordon Brown was confronted with the realisation that he had called a prospective voter a “bigoted old woman” on a live microphone – says it all.
Indeed, it is very hard to argue against the caller’s point at all.
There can be no justification that I can think of – none – for giving £1.5bn in aid over five years to a country which spends $31.5bn USD on defence, which has a space programme nominally more ambitious than that of the donor country, and which has explicitly stated that it does not want the funds. None.
And when the government takes such an active role in providing healthcare – not just regulating the system and ensuring universal access, but actively providing the care itself through a national health system – politicians will always be ambushed in this way by citizens who feel that the government’s misprioritisation of resources has let them down.