Welcome to Washington, Dr. Berwick


By Susan Stamper Brown

Another dreamer quietly joined the Obama administration last summer without Congressional approval. Despite resolute promises that Obamacare would not include rationing or result in a single-payer system, please give a hearty and belated welcome to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services director, Dr. Donald Berwick.

Berwick’s unobtrusive entrance could not muffle his history of being a very loud proponent of the troubled British National Healthcare System (NHS). During the NHS’s 60th anniversary meeting in 2008, Berwick scorned America’s ho-hum, less superior, lower quality, fragmented, capitalistic, supply-driven medical system – and praised NHS’s socialized system saying, “Excellent health care is by definition [wealth] redistribution,“ and told NHS leaders that “Britain chose well.”

An increasing number of NHS patients may not concur with Dr. Berwick’s assessment. According to the UK Guardian, not long after Berwick’s appointment last year, written complaints ranging from “neglect and misdiagnosis” to a “distinct lack of care and compassion” from caregivers rose 13.4 percent.

Patient complaints along with various audits expose insufficiencies within the NHS. On January 17, 2011, the UK Daily Mail told of an investigation into 15 UK West Midlands hospitals that used “substandard” maternity care including delivery delays, inadequate resuscitation attempts and failure to properly monitor patients that may have resulted in the unexplained deaths of 21 babies.

A striking 2009 audit found many NHS healthcare managers prioritized cost cutting over patient care and cited that “appalling standards of care” may have attributed to the deaths of up to 1200 people at one hospital in Mid-Staffordshire where poorly trained and overworked nurses turned off equipment they didn’t know how to work and inexperienced doctors were left alone with post-surgery patients while receptionists were tasked with triage assessment.

In order to meet an NHS-imposed four-hour waiting room limit, doctors left blood-covered seriously ill patients without pain medication to treat those with minor injuries. Others received incorrect medications or were deprived of necessary food and drink. To escape firing, nurses dumped patients who could not be treated within four hours into a “clinical decision unit.”

Unattended thirsty elderly patients were found drinking flower vase water. Families reported abuse, untreated bedsores, and found patients lying in urine and feces soiled beds. A blood and feces covered restroom was described as “Third World” by one eye witness.

“Excellent healthcare?”

Nightmarish combat zone might be a better description of what happens when government takes over healthcare and the money runs out. The Brits have had 60 years to get it right but instead proved that socialized healthcare is an elitist ideological fairy tale.

Democrats have an opportunity to join the House of Representatives in the repeal and defunding of an extremely flawed bill and subsequently to rebuild and repair America’s existing healthcare system.

Failures within the NHS system show us that “free” care is not free when you count the human toll. Dr. Berwick once told NHS leaders, “I hope you will never, ever give up what you have begun … I hope you realize … how badly the world needs – an example … of a health system that is universal, accessible, excellent…a health system at its core is like the world we wish we had…”

The world we wish we had? This is the model he holds up as the standard for the rest of the world to envy?

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Berwick. You’re in good company.


©2011 Susan Stamper Brown


One Response to Welcome to Washington, Dr. Berwick

  • This is America! Americans ration EVERYTHING, based on ability to pay: food, housing, transportation, education, recreation, communication, everything! Did you somehow conclude that health care is more important than food or shelter? Or that it’s guaranteed somewhere in the Constitution?
    Do you have any idea how many thousands of Americans in border states regularly go into Canada (similar to the British system) to seek medical care? Yes, RX are cheaper, but most of us go because the quality is better.
    In 1999 Don Berwick was a member of the Institute of Medicine’s committee that wrote the study “To Err is Human,” which concluded that the quality of health care in America’s hospitals was abysmal. So bad that the medical system actually KILLS more than 44,000 patients per year (120 Americans a day! Other researchers estimate the actual number to be several times higher – see Starfield, Johns Hopkins.) That’s right – physicians are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
    Don Berwick has dedicated his life to improving health care in the United States. And he understands how far we have to go. There are very very few people in the United States more qualified to provide leadership and direction to our health care “system” than he is.