The usual response to concerns about the months-long waiting lists for surgery in Canada and Britain is that this is a mere inconvenience, a small price to pay for universal “free” care. If you have a really serious need, you’ll get immediate attention—or so Michael Moore and others tell us.
Although one can surely come up with anecdotes about someone who got good emergency care in a Canadian or British hospital—especially if the person is a prominent journalist—this is not the norm.
The average wait in Canadian emergency rooms is 23 hours, stated John Stossel on ABC’s 20/20.
Once admitted, a Canadian patient may wait three days in the emergency department for a bed (Michael A. Platokov, “A Temple for Human Sacrifice,” Western Standard 12/4/06).
Actress Natasha Richardson suffered an epidural hematoma from head trauma while skiing Mont Tremblant in Quebec. Prompt neurosurgical treatment probably would have saved her—but it took 4 hours to get her to a properly equipped hospital after she started to deteriorate and called 911 from her hotel room. Quebec—unlike the U.S.—has no medical helicopters (CBSNews.com 3/21/09).
But the flip side, advocates for the Canadian system say, is that U.S. helicopters are “way overused.” A person with a non-life-threatening injury might get killed in a helicopter crash, as has happened (Slate.com 3/27/09).
Because of lack of a single bed in any neonatal intensive care unit in southern Ontario, 10 to 15 babies per year have to be transferred to Buffalo, N.Y. Parents of Ava Isabella Stinson were amazed at the way their daughter was treated—and ended up with a different view of Americans.
“Even the security guards care about how you feel.” And the Ronald McDonald House was “like living in a mansion, said Stinson” (Buffalo News 7/2/09).
Cancer might be considered an emergency by the patient—but not by the Canadian or British health bureaucracy. Those who want prompt surgery generally have to come to the U.S., as Stuart Browning shows in the video A Short Course in Brain Surgery, which has been seen by more than 3 million viewers.
In Britain, the National Health Service is supposed to cover necessary treatment, but people are selling their homes to get cancer care (Daily Express 12/22/2008). One British cancer patient waited for an appointment with a specialist, only to have it cancelled—48 times (David Gratzer, “The Ugly Truth about Canadian Health Care,” City Journal, summer 2007).
Kidney failure is fatal, if you can’t get dialysis. In Britain, you are ineligible for this life-saving treatment once you reach the age of 55. The mother of Beth Ashmore, a past president of the National Association of Health Underwriters, developed kidney failure while visiting England. Treatment was denied because of her mother’s age, so Ashmore arranged for a specially equipped jet to bring her home. The hospital, however, had placed her in a back room to die, alone—and could not locate her! Thus, she died while an aircraft that could have saved her waited on a runway in Atlanta to find out its destination.
Mere pain, no matter how severe or disabling, is not considered life-threatening, so orthopedic surgery that could relieve it is usually long delayed. Dr. Brian Day, former president of the Canadian Medical Association, saw his operating room time reduced from 22 hours to only 5 hours per week, 10 hours less than recommended for minimal competence by the Canadian Orthopaedic Association. He had 450 patients waiting for care (National Post 10/23/07).
- “What America Needs to Learn from Canadian Medicare,” by Lee Kurisko, M.D., and Dave Racer, M.Litt., J Am Phys Surg, summer 2009.
- “Lessons from Sweden’s Universal Health System: Tales from the Crypt,” by Sven R. Larson, Ph.D., J Am Phys Surg, Spring 2008.
- “The Failure of Socialized Medicine in Canada,” presentation by David Gratzer, M.D., AAPS 64th Annual Meeting, 2007. (MP3 audio file)