If you were one of the estimated four billion viewers of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games on Friday, you might have been surprised and mystified by the segment about the British National Health Service (NHS). The official Opening Ceremony Media Guide calls the NHS “the institution which more than any other unites our nation.”
Let’s take a brief look at what is the NHS and why the British are so proud of it.Almost all of the 600 volunteers who danced in that part of the Ceremony worked for the NHS, and many of the children who bounced on the rolling hospital beds had been patients at the most-loved children’s hospital in London, the Great Ormond Street Hospital (which the dancers spelled out as GOSH). Demonstrating the British commitment to health and philanthropy, the creator of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, bequeathed all of the royalties of Peter Pan to help support GOSH.
The NHS was a legacy of World War II, as the British government started to give free care to anyone injured by enemy action, and when the War ended, the government broadened coverage to include all citizens of the United Kingdom. Since 1948, the institution has grown to become the fifth largest single employer in the world, employing over 1.7 million people.
The NHS is supported by taxes, and while controversial, it still remains highly popular. Complaints about long waits for some non-urgent surgeries are common, and that the NHS does not cover certain medications and procedures, including some dental care, but public satisfaction with the NHS remains high. In 2010, a record high 70% of UK citizens said they were somewhat to very satisfied with the NHS (though last year the percentage dropped, perhaps due to cutbacks from the financial crisis).
Like the Brazilian system, the UK has a voluntary private health care system, but only about 8% of the population elects to use the private pay option. Visitors to the UK are covered for emergency services only.
In Brazil, since SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde) was instituted, infant mortality has dropped dramatically and life expectancy has increased by almost 11 years, but still, much needs to be improved in SUS to match the quality of the NHS. The government is making an effort to improve, and perhaps if more tax money went to support the health of the population, and less was lost to corruption, SUS would rise dramatically in quality and popularity. We probably won’t see a SUS dance routine in the 2016 Rio Games, but, like Peter Pan, for the dream to happen, we first have to believe that it can.
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