President Donald Trump tweeted that while Democrats are pushing for universal health care, “thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U[niversal] system is going broke and not working.” But the London demonstrators marched in support of the system and urged the government to better fund it.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service is a single-payer system: The government pays for health care, which is free at the point of service (with the exception of some prescription, eye care or dental costs), and funded through taxes.
Trump’s tweet came after a “Fox & Friends” interview with Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and a Trump supporter, who said rampant immigration is putting a strain on Britain’s National Health Service. As a result, he said, “We just haven’t got enough hospitals. We haven’t got enough doctors. We haven’t got enough facilities.”
Without “fundamental reforms,” Farage said, the NHS is at a “breaking point.”
And he issued this warning for Americans: “The big, big point is this: when the state gives benefits to people, any attempt in the future to reform it or take those benefits back becomes politically impossible. … If you [Americans] were to introduce universal health care, paid for essentially out of taxes, you would never, ever be able to remove that.”
Soon after, Trump tweeted this:
The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2018
Indeed, some Democrats are pushing for universal health care. In September, Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2017, which would broaden Medicare into a universal health insurance program. It was cosponsored by 16 Democratic senators. And a majority of House Democrats signed on as co-sponsors of the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act, introduced by Democratic Rep. John Conyers earlier last year.
But Trump’s tweet suggests those “marching in the UK” were opposed to the universal health care system there. That’s not accurate.
The BBC reported that thousands demonstrated in London on Feb. 3, “calling for more government support for the NHS.”
The groups behind the rally, The People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, put out a joint statement responding to Trump’s tweet. They said the demonstrators wanted “to show their love for the principles of universal and comprehensive care free at the point of use, paid for through general taxation.” They were protesting, they said, against British government policies they view as trying to “move us more to an American-style system which is widely acknowledged to be one of the most expensive, inefficient and unjust healthcare systems in the world.”
Here’s the entire response:
The People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, Feb. 5:
Dear Donald Trump
The NHS has existed since 1948 in the UK after the devastation of the second world war. The British population demanded the right to have access to healthcare which they deserve as human beings which is absolutely affordable when the right political decisions are made.
It has been a shining example to the world of what can be achieved when we put the needs of the collective good over the interests of a few wealthy individuals. Unfortunately, our current government have been persuaded to increasingly adopt policies which represent those of your Government, they have decided to move us more to an American-style system which is widely acknowledged to be one of the most expensive, inefficient and unjust healthcare systems in the world.
This is why our NHS is currently struggling and why leading Professors including Professor Stephen Hawking are bravely battling politicians who wish to turn it into a system like yours.
This is what our demonstration was about on Saturday 3rd Feb and tens of thousands of British people want to show their love for the principles of universal and comprehensive care free at the point of use, paid for through general taxation. We don’t agree with your divisive and incorrect rhetoric. No thanks.
A New York Times story notes that “budgetary austerity” in the U.K. has limited the growth of health spending to below the historical norm. As a result, “Patients often wait months, even for essential procedures. Waiting rooms are often crowded,” the Times wrote. That has soured some on the system, though public satisfaction with the NHS remains high.
Those protesting in Britain recently weren’t advocating scrapping the system; they were advocating higher government funding. According to the Times, the protesters in Britain chanted, “Keep your hands off our N.H.S.” Images of the protest from the BBC and published by The Guardian show demonstrators carrying signs that read, “More Staff, More Beds, More Funds” and “Save Our NHS.”
In July 2017, the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based nonpartisan research foundation that promotes improved health care access and quality, issued a report comparing the health care system performance of 11 high-income countries, using indicators for care process, access, administrative efficiency, equity and health care outcomes. The U.K. was tops overall in the performance rankings. The U.S ranked last.
Commonwealth Fund, July 2017: In general, the U.K. achieves superior performance compared to other countries in all areas [care process, access, administrative efficiency and equity] except Health Care Outcomes, where it ranks 10th despite experiencing the fastest reduction in deaths amenable to health care in the past decade. [The U.S. ranked 11th, last, on health care outcomes].
Eric Schneider, senior vice president for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund and the study’s lead author, said he could not comment on the specifics of Trump’s claims. But he said the Commonwealth Fund report “shows that overall the health systems of the United Kingdom and several other high income countries achieve higher performance than the U.S.”
“Like several other high-income countries, the U.K. spends a lower percentage of its GDP on health care than the U.S.,” Schneider told us via email. “All health systems, even those that are well designed and organized, may find it difficult to perform at a high level if they are insufficiently funded.”
In response to Trump’s tweet, Britain’s health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said on Twitter that while he disagreed with some of the claims made by those who participated in the march, “not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover.”
Hunt added that while “NHS may have challenges” he was “proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance.”
I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover. NHS may have challenges but I’m proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance https://t.co/YJsKBAHsw7
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) February 5, 2018
According to the BBC News, Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, also responded to Trump’s tweet, saying, “Unfortunately, respectfully, we suggest that tweet got the wrong end of the stick.”
“And, in fact, people in this country don’t want to ditch our NHS,” Stevens said, “not withstanding what we’ve said today, they want to keep it and strengthen it.”