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Rats! to Socialized Healthcare

Government medicine really stinks.

By Will Offensicht  |  March 18, 2008

In a story "Dead rodent stops operation," Reuters reported:

Andrew Cowper was due to have an operation at the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Hertfordshire when staff "were made aware of a dead rodent in the single storey unit's roof space," the hospital said in a statement.

The hospital said its experts concluded that the dead animal was outside the operating theater and posed no risk.

But "despite being told that the trust's infection control experts had stated that Mr Cowper was not being exposed to an infection risk, he decided not to proceed with the operation," it said.

Cowper, 19, told the Sun newspaper he had waited 11 months for the operation, and the doctor told him he could go ahead despite the stench.

"He said the smell didn't represent a health risk, but I was appalled," Cowper said. "I asked him: 'If you were me, would you have the operation?' He looked at me and said 'no', so I decided there and then I wasn't going to go ahead."

This account suggests several points to ponder.

First, the British hospital obviously didn't care what their "customer" thought about the dead rodent.  Their experts ruled that the smell did not pose any health risk - so that was that.  The fact that the mere existence of the decaying beast might possibly suggest that a prudent patient might legitimately be concerned with the hospital's overall housekeeping methodology was irrelevant.

Reuters' account suggests that the hospital PR department was mildly frustrated that Mr. Cowper didn't accept their expert's opinion and go ahead with the operation.  Since Mr. Cowper had already waited nigh on a year for the operation, they reasonably figured he'd go ahead as scheduled come hell or high water; after all, doubtless that's the choice made by most frustrated patients.  When you've waited that long for medical care, you just want to "get it over with."

This callous attitude toward users is typical of government-run activities.  As a practical matter, it's nearly impossible to fire government employees at any level regardless of how badly they perform.  What's worse, the existence of any "free" government-provided service makes it difficult for more efficient organizations to compete; hospital employees have no reason to make any effort to care about "customers" who have no choice.

As we've pointed out earlier, this can be a good thing if the service being provided is something we don't want people to do, but leads to highly unsatisfactory outcomes in important services such as medical care and education which we do want.

Second, this is a graphic illustration of how single-payer systems solve the only real question in health care - how does the system limit demand?

Reuters reported, almost in passing, that Mr. Cowper had waited 11 months for his operation.  The tone of the article shows that the media did not think waiting this long was unusual at all.  Reuters and the Sun considered an 11 month wait for surgery to be normal - the deceased rodent was the only newsworthy aspect to the story.

There are only two known ways to limit demand for health care - charge patients for services or set a budget and make people wait when demand exceeds the budget.  Single-payer systems use the latter method which is why Mr. Cowper waited so long.  Such system always stay within their budgets because patients die or heal themselves while waiting for treatment.

Turning health care over to the government is a good way to end up with hospitals who care about as much about curing their patients as public school teachers unions care about educating their students; this generally means little if any caring at all.  If you enjoy waiting in line at the Social Security office, you'll love government-run health care.