Flu may overwhelm U.K. health system

A nurse prepare the doses of H1N1 vaccine.


Bill Radke: Over in Britain, a mass vaccination against the swine flu begins today. About 11 million people will get inoculated under the first phase of the program. The British government says it has enough vaccine. The fear is this flu could overwhelm the country's state-run health service. From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: Vaccine supplies may be plentiful and the virus may be proving much less lethal than feared. But there is a worrying trend. And it could have a big impact on Britain's state-run health system.

The number of new swine flu cases doubled here last week. The number of victims admitted into intensive care also shot up.

Andrew Lansley is a Conservative member of parliament, and opposition spokesman on health.

Andrew LANSLEY: In Britain we start from a position where we have relatively few intensive-care beds compared with our population, compared to other countries. And those are already hard pressed.

The government says it will double the number of ICU beds to 4,000. But given current trends, there could be 5,000 swine flu victims needing specialized care in the coming months. The NHS could face its toughest winter.

A potential embarrassment for some supporters of health-care reform in the U.S. They have been pointing to the NHS as a model system.

In London this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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This report bothered me when I heard it.

About the number of intensive care beds in Britain - why no actual ratio per population, just a vague estimate by an opposition figure? How does the U.S. compare? Could it be the NHS needs a smaller number than most countries because its citizens can get treated before they need intensive care under normal circumstances?

Second, is there any proof the U.S. is going to do better if the swine flu numbers shoot up here? There are already stories in the U.S. media warning that doctors may have to choose who gets scarce resources here if flu cases rise - and we start from a lower level of health care to begin with compared to Britain.

Finally, the "some people" in America citing the NHS as a model are largely those trying to kill health care reform by painting the NHS as a failure - and they're generally either wrong or outright scaremongering. The U.S. is NOT looking at a British - style NHS where the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors. If the NHS is so bad, why do they have enough vaccine for the swine flu in Britain while we're scrambling over here - and that's for the regular vaccine, let alone the H1N1 flu?

If Beard was trying to come up with another "Government health care will kill you" story he succeeded. If he was trying to do accurate and unbiased reporting, he failed.

Is there a story here? So which is going to overrun the UK health system? Everyone getting the flu or the fact that everyone is going to get vaccinated? How about vague and misleading articles may overwhelm marketplace?

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