Britons begged to differ. Their publicly funded health system, where treatments are free at the point of delivery, is a much-loved institution that’s always near the top of voter priorities. The main complaint: The NHS is becoming too American.
“There would be millions marching if we had the US system!” tweeted Paul Kyle, who described himself on Twitter as a Manchester United and Metallica fan, in response to Trump. A Twitter user going by the handle Constantly Miffed wrote: “we’re marching against right-wing ideologies trying to kill the NHS, and against increased privatization.”
The back-and-forth began when the president apparently saw a Fox News broadcast this morning focusing on the protests, in which thousands of Londoners turned out to demand more staff, more funds and more beds for the under-financed system. The program featured Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, a frequent Fox commentator.
“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,” Trump wrote. “Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!”
U.K. officials jumped quickly to the NHS’s defense. “We’re proud of all it does and all it achieves,” government spokesman James Slack told reporters in London, though he also stressed that Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump have a “good relationship.” He said he couldn’t recall the two leaders ever discussing the health service.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted that for Britons, the “No thanks” applied to U.S. health care.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
(Photo: Allison Bell/TA)
During the Brexit referendum in 2016, one of the key messages of the Leave campaign was to repatriate money from Brussels and spend it on the NHS. And perhaps to the bafflement of the global audience, it even featured in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012, with a choreographed segment that included patients on hospital trollies.
While part of the U.K. disgruntlement stems from perceived under-funding of the NHS, protesters also are anxious about creeping privatization of the service. Data from the King’s Fund charity show that 7.7% of the service’s budget went toward private services in the 2016-2017 tax year, up from 7.3% two years earlier. That’s consistent “with longer-term gradual increases over the past 15 years,” it said.
“We are marching because we love our universal healthcare and we don’t want it to end up like YOUR broken system,” wrote Twitter user EL4C, whose profile links through to a YouTube channel called Ealing Labour for Corbyn, indicating support for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn himself tweeted that Trump was wrong: “People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it. Healthcare is a human right.”
Within two hours of Trump’s tweet, there were more than 10,000 responses to it. In a Twitter poll set up by Financial Times journalist Jim Pickard pitting the two countries’ health care systems against each other, 90% of those who voted preferred the British system.
The London protests followed a Labour Party rally on Jan. 25 in which Corbyn and his health spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth, called for an emergency budget to end a winter crisis in the NHS that’s seen more than 116,000 people stuck for more than half an hour in ambulances, waiting for hospital beds to free up.
And indeed, Britons expressed little support for how their Conservative government was handling the NHS issue. A tweeter names Katherine Fenton wrote:
“The NHS is failing because it is being starved of funds by our govt who all have links to private healthcare companies and seem to think that the American system is the way to go…..kerching! That is why we were protesting, because we would like to keep our universal healthcare.”
— Read Quebec Seeks Competitive Bids on Drugs After Talks Collapse on ThinkAdvisor.