A pic and should healthcare be free?

I took this photo of a church on Union St this morning because I found the colours really striking. The blue-grey of the sky and the gentle sunlight shining on the church spire made me want to whip out my camera and capture it as I raced to a 9am appointment.


I went to the dentist this week and it cost me £4.64. And that included two x-rays. That’s just ridiculous. Why is it so cheap? No wonder the NHS is broke. I’m used to paying $100+ for a dental check-up with x-rays. The GP here is completely free too. My GP in New Zealand usually charged about $50.

I’m not sure what my views on this are. I’m used to paying for these things so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect people to pay for these services when they can afford it. But then I guess it’s hard to manage a system where some have to pay and some don’t. I really don’t know what the answer is. Wait, yes I do. The answer is bike lanes of course 🙂 Think how much money the NHS would save if there was some decent cycling infrastructure in the UK. The Christchurch City Council just published a report which claims that for every $1 spent on cycling infrastructure, $8 will be returned to the community in the form of reduced traffic congestion, health and environmental benefits.

What do other people think? Should the dentist and doctor be free for all?

30 responses to “A pic and should healthcare be free?”

  1. I would worry that if some people started being charged for healthcare it would be the thin end of the wedge for charges to creep in more and more. You’re lucky in your dental charges, I guess it’s a Scottish thing? In England I have to pay £18.50 for a check-up.

    • It might be cheaper here, I’m not sure, but £18.50 is still very cheap. What happens if you need work done, like fillings? Does the NHS cover that as well?

  2. yeah i’m for free healthcare, though working out how it’s funded is problematic. but it’s for-profit insurance that really bothers me. that might be more a US issue than UK.

    p.s. Scotland voted to stay with the UK, right?

  3. I vote for bike lanes too. A full fledged cycling infrastructure would encourage me to bike.

    Recently I paid $30 for a GP visit and the two lab tests were free. But I heard stories about how expensive the dental bills are. I hope dental is free or nearly-free as well. I am happy to pay taxes here for this same reason and other benefits like education, roads etc.

    There are other ways to save healthcare dollars for Governments that doesn’t involve charging patients. This is the noble mission of my current employer.

    • Dental visits are quite expensive in New Zealand, particularly if you need work done. Children get free dental through schools but it isn’t very good. The dental nurse found one filling in my daughter’s mouth and wanted to put in a white filling, but when I took her to a private paediatric dentist in Auckland, they discovered four fillings and put in four stainless-steel crowns. The private dentist was an American Harvard-trained dentist and she was brilliant but very expensive. The checkup was $150 from memory and the crowns cost a couple of thousand dollars.

  4. Great picture. Wichita, in a progressive mood, has just voted to build new bike lanes in parts of town which does not have them. That is great, as it is a risk to your life to ride your bike on the streets.

    I think healthcare should be free, but the United States has compromised by trying to make it affordable by subsidizing Insurance for those with low income. Even that was too much, as several states have sued the to end the subsidies, and the matter is now before the Supreme Court. It is a shame that a country as rich as ours cannot see that our citizens receive the medical treatment they need.

    There is a great need for dental care, which is not covered by most insurance policies. Exams are $100, X-rays $50, and fillings from $80 to $400. Crowns, braces and dentures are very expensive. Recently, Kansas had a free dental clinic manned by dentists and dental assistants who volunteered their time. Many people camped outside the clinic in freezing weather to be sure they got dental care. The weekend clinic was not able to see all of those waiting – many who were children..

    • That’s so great to hear about the volunteer dental clinic but so sad that people can’t afford to get healthcare when they need it. I don’t think I’d like the system in the US where if you can’t afford it you don’t get treatment. It seems quite callous.

  5. Health care free at the point of use is a great theory and we in the UK are lucky to have it but it is now such a political football that even sensible reforms are lost. We should means test some elements. We should privatise non clinical services more so the pounds available go more on health care. And both main political parties should agree to take it out of the political areas so it is properly considered. But non of this will happen and the system will continue to creak until it collapses and in the mean time the budget ring fencing will distort the economy and compromise our recovery.

    • Yes, I think we are very lucky in the UK. Education here is also completely free and I think this is wonderful. I am happy to pay a bit more in tax to make quality education free for all. In New Zealand it’s supposed to be free but schools (even state schools) charge something called a voluntary fee which is not really voluntary at all. There there are expenses associated with books and stationery which parents have to pay. I was quite stunned when I discovered the only thing we had to pay for here was the uniform.

      • We are lucky and I love it but I know that we would get more bang for our buck if it wasn’t used for politics. It’s a great shame

  6. “No wonder the NHS is broke.”

    As Tan implies, It’s not broke and can’t be broke, no more than the government as a whole can be. Games are being played in order to pretend it’s broke. The same games have been played for years in the US with social security, by people with similar sympathies. It’s class warfare.

    • The US is quite different and most of the rest of the developed world looks on with horror at the lack of accessibility of basic health services for the poor and uninsured. This is just not the case in countries I’ve lived in like Australia and New Zealand, where even though there might be a small fee to see a GP, it’s still free for people who can’t afford it and there are also free services available – in Australia it was called bulk-billing. I wouldn’t want to live in a country with a system like the US.

    • I think Steve makes a good point. If you look around the developed world, typical healthcare costs are about 12% of GDP. In the UK it’s around 10%, so we’re putting less into healthcare than many other comparable countries. So, it may in a sense be broke, but only because we’re choosing to give it less funding than many other countries are choosing to do. Now, you could have a debate about to fund this shortfall – should it be via taxation, or some form of charging, but that doesn’t change that the NHS is probably recieving about 20% less than many other comparable countries. Given that, it is remarakble what is provided and seems to me to show just how efficient can be.

      On a similar note, what I think many don’t realise about the US is just how incredibly inefficient it is. For example, US healthcare costs are about $8000 per person (which is even more amazing when you consider that not everyone is fully covered). Of the $8000, half comes via taxation. So, the US is spending $4000 per person per year of public money in a healthcare system that does not provide free at the point of use healthcare to the entire population. By comparison, the UK spending per person is less than this, as is the case in many other countries. I find this remarkable. How can there be a private healthcare system in which the taxpayer spend per person still exceeds that spent per person in countries where healthcare is free at the point of use?

      • Ah, ok. I didn’t really understand what Steve’s point was so thanks for explaining. I didn’t realise the UK spent less on healthcare than other developed nations. I just had a look at these figures from the World Bank (maybe they’re not accurate?) – http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.TOTL.ZS – and it says the UK only spends 9.4% while Australia and New Zealand spend 9.1% and 10.3% respectively. The US is a whopping 17.9% which is incredible given that many people don’t have access to it. How can that be? Perhaps there’s a good case for taxpayer-funded free health care for all on the basis of efficency. I do not object to my tax dollars going towards health and education. My experience with the NHS (fairly limited) has been really good so far.

      • Oh and I meant to add that I’m friends with two doctors: a paediatric oncologist and an obesity surgeon and both of them have lots of negative things to say about the NHS. I think most of the complaints are related to under-staffing and a mountain of administration.

      • Rachel,
        The numbers look about right. I was probably a bit lax in my numbers and should probably have said “many comparable countries spend a 1-2% of GDP more than the UK”. So, it’s certainly not the case that healthcare spending in the UK is high and there are plenty of comparable countries where it is 10-20% higher.

      • … there are plenty of comparable countries where it is 10-20% higher.

        You mean 1-2% higher, right? I can’t see any that are 10-20% higher.

        But I agree that healthcare spending in the UK is similar to most other developed countries. The US seems to be an outlier.

  7. First of all YES, it is still a very efficient way of funding health care, and one for which I am very grateful, even though I haven’t used it that much (I think?)
    Second the picture is great, not a man for god but I love these religious buildings. When I was down in England recently visited a few amazing ones, but on a much smaller scale.
    Thirdly, there are also benefits for the economy in cycling – http://www.dmbins.com/developing/research/the-british-cycling-economy

    • Yes, I also love these religious buildings even though I am atheist. I especially love looking at the skyline from afar when you can see these pointy spires. They give the city a sort-of fairy-tale look.

      Thanks for the cycling economy link. Looks interesting! I’ll have a read.

  8. Originally the National Insurance contribution (stamp) was used to fund all these things. It was a a genuine insurance scheme but without profit. In recent times the amount one pays has been linked to earnings.

    Unfortunately what tends to happen here is that services are deliberately underfunded (my view) as an excuse to then privatise further.. Hopefully we will get a change of government soon.

    Great view of the church.

  9. Hi Rachel!

    I went the other way! I came from a country where I paid almost nothing for dental treatments to a country with almost no dental coverage in the insurance package. And I asked the question ‘Why do I have to pay for necessary dental work?’. I think it is better to have it covered and to give everyone the equal chance to be treated. If there is wish for fancy extras it is ok to charge for this. The result is that people don’t go to the dentist until it is too late. But maybe my opinion is just my up-bringing 😉

    • Yes, it’s definitely better to have people going to the dentist regularly as a preventative measure. I’m pleased the dentist is included in the NHS here.

  10. There was a period when it became difficult to register with an NHS dentist – it wasn’t profitable for some practices and they went private only. I don’t know if this is still the case. I have found an NHS dentist, and agree it should be free, because otherwise people put off going at an early stage, which leads to problems later on. Also I saw a programme where a charity went into poor areas to provide dental treatment in the USA, and there were huge queues, and it just seems madness to see that in a modern society.

    • An inability to see a dentist does seem crazy in a modern society. Not only was the dentist I saw here practically free, he was really, really good. I asked him heaps of questions and I could just tell he’s a good dentist 🙂

  11. You get free prescriptions in Scotland, don’t you? We don’t here in England though, but then we finance the other three parts of the UK via the Barnett Formula.

    • I’m not sure about prescriptions as I haven’t had any. My doctor posted me a script for iron tablets but he didn’t ask me first whether I wanted it. He simply posted it without even saying he was going to. I already have some of my own iron tablets which I can start taking regularly so I don’t need it.

      • On your original point about the NHS being ‘cheap’, it is obviously because it is being funded through general taxation. We are not yet being charged for seeing a GP (as they do in the Republic of Ireland, which has never had an NHS or equivalent), but it wouldn’t surprise me it we did in the future; whilst still having to pay for it through our taxes.

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