Olympics tribute to the British National Health Service

I didn’t watch the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics. For that matter, I still haven’t seen the lavishly-praised 2008 Beijing ceremonies either or any Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade or any of the Royal weddings or state funerals. The truth is I am just not a big fan of long, elaborate, staged, set-piece ceremonies. I find them incredibly boring. Give me a ten-minute clip of the highlights and I might watch. But I am glad when the events go off well, given all the hard work (not to mention money) that goes into them, and so was pleased to see that the London event had been well-received.

I was particularly amused how some Americans were surprised at the extended and handsome tribute given to the British National Health Service during the opening. This is the fully state-run health care system that provides free care to all residents. It is socialized medicine in all its glory, the nightmare of the right wing and Tea Party here. The Daily Mail has a roundup of some of the reactions along with nice photos.

I was a major beneficiary of the NHS as a child and over a period of five years spent months, both as an in-patient and out-patient, at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children that was singled out for special mention in the celebration with the letters GOSH spelled out. I described my experiences here as part of my review for Michael Moore’s 2007 film Sicko. I was pleased to see both the NHS and that hospital being singled out for praise.

If you listened to the fantasies of the right-wingers here, you would think that the British health system was awful and that the public there hated it and longed to adopt the US system. Showing how much the British love their National Health Service seems to have come as a shock to the more ignorant of the people here whose only source of information is the propaganda put out by the health care and drug industries and their political lackeys. The thought that the British loved it so much to give it such prominence must have stuck in their craw, especially since the organizers did not hesitate to explicitly stick it to the critics of their system of socialized medicine. In a media guide, they said “The NHS is the institution which more than any other unites our nation. It was founded just after World War II on Aneurin Bevan’s famous principle, ‘No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.'”

In another subtle nod to the virtues of the group over the individual, the Olympic cauldron consisted of not a single giant flame but 204 separate flames arranged like the petals of a flower representing all the nations at the games and was lit, not by a single famous individual, but by seven young anonymous athletes simultaneously.

Nice work, England United Kingdom!


  1. magistramarla says

    Like you, I’m not into watching televised ceremonies, so I didn’t see this. I do love British culture, history, humor, music, actors, movies and television shows. After reading the article, it seems that the opening ceremony did a wonderful job of highlighting all of these things.
    Congrats to them!

  2. smrnda says

    For all the horror stories of how ‘bad’ socialized medicine is, I have yet to meet a single European who thinks the US system is better; most tell me that living in the US must be a life of constant fear and anxiety since there’s no guarantee that somehow, you’ll be without health care when you need it the most.

    I have actually found some Americans – the Tea Party types – when they encounter someone from another country who discusses how great some government program works – the American simply goes into a spasm of unfocused rage ranting on about stuff being ‘unAmerican’ – as if you could dismiss and idea that works simply on the basis that it’s atypical for your own country. To me, that’s not ignorance, but stupidity.

  3. says

    The comments on The Blaze make depressing reading. It seems almost nobody will consider the idea that the Brits have a different opinion of the NHS because they’re much, much, much better informed about it than Blaze readers.

    Fact: On average, Brits pay roughly half as much as Americans for health care. Fact, average British life expectancy is 80.5 (78.1 for men, 82.1 for women) as compared to US life expectancy of 78.2 (75.6 for men and 78.37 for women). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy)

    Pay less, live longer. Sounds good to me.

  4. says

    I read the article on The Blaze you linked to and found a phrase that revealed all we need to know: “evidence notwithstanding.”

  5. MorsGotha says

    Just a small correction sir, the ceremony is due to Great Britain & Northern Island, not England.

  6. Mano Singham says

    Noted and corrected. United Kingdom is the same as Great Britain & Northern Ireland, right?

  7. MorsGotha says

    Good question, we play in the Olympics as ‘team GB’, but ‘Great Britain’ does not include northern island, but ‘team GB’ and the UK does…

    It confuses me too.

  8. Paul Durrant says

    GB is the official (ISO 3166-1) two-letter country code for the United Kingdom. The use of UK in internet addresses for the United Kingdom is a historical mistake. The UK two-letter country code is not used by any country, having been exceptionally reserved by request of the United Kingdom.

  9. lorn says

    It isn’t just that the people in the US spend more, get less, and live shorter, and sicker, lives. We also live in fear.

    Fear for those without insurance that a minor injury or illness will keep us out of work and burden us with bills that causes us to lose everything and become homeless. Fear that your insurance rates will go up if you use the medical insurance. Fear that the insurance company will arbitrarily decline payments or drop us. Fear of losing insurance coverage if you lose a job.

    Aside – How much entrepreneurial power and drive is being lost by the thousands of people who can’t start the business they want to because they can’t afford to give up employer provided medical insurance?

    I grew up in a military family before they privatized their dependents medical system. As soon as I was old enough to carry an ID card I was told that if I ever got injured away from home I was to go to any of the surrounding clinics, present them with my ID card, tell them my father’s name and rank, and I would get treated. I had friends from civilian families that got fussed at for getting injured where the cost was brought up. One of my friends broke his arm and it took months of scrimping and saving for them to pay for it. Worrying about getting hurt is natural. Worrying about how your family will pay for it is an exercise in guilt a kid doesn’t need.

    Of course conservatives live in a fear driven world and they don’t want anyone to be able to avoid living in their kiss-up-kick-down fear driven world. They see no point in being rich if any old pauper can live without the fear of having to move their family into a refrigerator box if they break their leg taking out the trash. For them the fear of lesser people fear is good. It keeps the little people on their toes. It gives the rich and powerful a way to motivate and manipulate people.

    They can’t understand, or see any benefit to them, in a society that takes denial of medical care off the table as tool for controlling people.

  10. Mano Singham says

    Joseph Stiglitz also makes this point, that lack of a safety net and fear of loss of health insurance curbs the entrepreneurial spirit. People are scared to leave a job with benefits and branch out on their own.

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