The topsy-turvy world of NHS debate

We live in a very strange world and, in politics, everything gets all the stranger. It’s a bit like stumbling into Royston Vasey or visiting one of bizarre areas of Ireland where everything travels upstream (or is that just in Father Ted?)

Case in point is the recent hysterical reaction to a not-so-recent comment Nigel Farage made about the NHS. Consistent with his party’s former libertarian pretentions, and completely out of kilter with its current Labour-chasing populism, the party leader told an audience:

“I think we are going to have to move to an insurance-based system of healthcare. Frankly, I would feel more comfortable that my money would return value if I was able to do that through the marketplace of an insurance company, than just us trustingly giving £100billion a year to central government and expecting them to organise the healthcare service from cradle to grave for us.”

Cue hysterical fear-mongering from Labour MPs about NHS privatisation and the Independent’s own wildly presumptuous headline, at least as it originally appeared on Facebook, which stated Farage thought the NHS “should be replaced with American-style health system.”

Is that what he said?

Because, ironically, what he was proposing sounds very much like the healthcare systems used in that place the Labour party is always telling us we should be more like – and UKIP most definitely thinks we should not be like – Europe.

Take the French system, for example, which provides universal healthcare but is not run by the state like the NHS, nor fully private, like the American system. In France, most physicians operate privately but are paid via public insurance funds, in which the government reimburses about 77 per cent of a person’s medical costs and 100 per cent in the case of chronic illness.

It was also named as the best system in the world for overall care by the World Health Organisation in 2000 (Britain was 18th) and, while the French spend a greater proportion of their GDP on healthcare (almost double what we do), it clearly shows results – and the British public has consistently demonstrated its willingness to pay more for better care.

Germany has a similar system of compulsory insurance (a bit like with cars in this country), except that the insurance is provided by private non-profit ‘sickness funds’ which are paid for via worker and employer contributions – leaving the option for those who can afford it to buy private insurance. Again, however, you have a system which is 77 per cent publicly funded but is not publicly run.

The fact even Nick Clegg – good Orange Booker that he was – once favoured such a system for Britain while Labour refuses to believe the European alternative even exists, only goes to strengthen Roy Hattersley’s quip in 1992 that “Labour has converted to Europe because Europe converted to socialism.”


We are currently recruiting researchers to work on comparative healthcare systems (amongst other roles), so if this issue interests you or gets you angry, do get in touch!