Even the New York Times Fears Socialized Medicine

Cancer case reveals several problems facing NHS

September 17, 2014

The New York Times laid out some of the problems with socialized medicine in Britain in an article published Wednesday.

The Times points to a case in which a five-year-old boy with a brain tumor set off an international hunt for the boy and his family. Critics of the National Health Service say Britain far overstepped its boundaries after it arrested the boy’s parents.

NHS denied five-year-old Ashya King an advanced cancer treatment known as proton beam therapy for his brain tumor. In a desperate attempt to get treatment for their son, Ashya’s parents traveled to Madrid to sell their holiday home. The parents took their son out of a Hampshire hospital without permission.

British police began an international hunt for the parents and issued a European arrest warrant, according to the Times. Spanish police launched a social media campaign to find them. The police tweeted an alert for the parents and received a response within minutes saying the family’s minivan had been spotted. The parents were detained within hours after quick coordination between British and Spanish authorities.

Three days later, the parents were released from custody and reunited with their son after British prosecutors dropped the case.

Treatment for Ashya was finally approved after the ordeal, but NHS is still under intense scrutiny.

Aside from outrage over the overblown reaction by NHS, Ashya’s case has drawn attention to the poor communication between doctors and patients in the system as well as the lack of advanced treatments available in Britain.

Cost was clearly not the problem in Ashya’s case, as NHS has paid for proton beam therapy abroad for about 400 patients. The problem was confusion surrounding Ashya’s condition.

Ashya’s parents discovered the proton beam therapy online and suggested it to his doctors. Doctors at first expressed reluctance but eventually agreed to supply a referral for the therapy, despite the fact that the treatment is not recommended for the type of cancer Ashya has. One professor told the Times that the situation is indicative of a communication breakdown between the doctors and parents.

Often, British doctors do not suggest advanced therapy and innovative solutions because of the looming fear of lawsuits that could result from unfamiliar procedures.

One mother, whose son received the advanced proton beam therapy that Ashya sought, told the Times that medical care in Britain is "not always cutting edge," adding that advanced types of treatments are simply not available in Britain like they are in other countries.

Doctors never suggested proton beam therapy for Ross Anderton, another recipient of the treatment, until his mother came across it on the Internet.

However, cost remains a concern for NHS. Managing director of Pfizer in Britain Jonathon Emms wrote last year that while medical innovation is surging, Britain is slow to implement new treatments, blocking some new treatments in an effort to keep costs down.