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A New Prescription for Britain's NHS

As a British subject, Graham Tarling is covered by NHS, the National Health Service. The 52-year-old system is free for everyone, but it is not perfect. As Tarling's case illustrates, 7 months ago, when British doctors discovered Tarling's kidney cancer, they told him to prepare to die.

"The surgery here was felt to be too risky to my life and people did not have the skills and did not want to put me at that risk," says Tarling.

Tarling turned to the Internet and found a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio willing to perform the surgery.

"A ray of hope began to emerge that we could go to America, possibly for treatment, but it would be very costly," says Tarling.

The cost of the 13-hour operation was more than 45-thousand dollars and was paid by NHS. A successful outcome for Tarling, but an example of the medical roulette faced by the critically ill all over the United Kingdom.

In fact, the government admits that in some cases the care you get depends on where you live. Residents of poorer neighborhoods have higher rates of cancer and lower survival rates. But it's not all geography. It's the system, compared to most other industrialized countries, Britain has fewer cancer specialists, spends less on drugs and radiotherapy--in fact spends less of its national income on medicine.

"The truth is, there are gaps between the health of the poorest and the better off," says Blair.

Under increasing political pressure, Prime Minister Tony Blair this week announced a promising prescription, promising to add 28-billion dollars over the next 4 year for more doctors, nurses, medicine and care for the elderly.

"There will be a national framework of standards which will lay down minimum standards of access and care to which patients will be entitled," says Blair.

Graham Tarling is recuperating at home, undergoing chemotherapy. His prospects for recovery are good. The question is whether Tony Blair's prescription for the NHS improves its condition.

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