NHS in “worse than unlimited budget for single patient” shock

The Wall Street Journal Europe uncorks an instant classic in explaining the longevity of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi:

Karol Sikora, a leading cancer specialist who examined Megrahi shortly before his release, explains that predicting how long a patient with end-stage prostate cancer has to live is “a value judgment of probability,” not an exact science. But Dr. Sikora also writes that his initial three-month prognosis was “based on his treatment as an NHS patient in Glasgow at the time, when not even standard docetaxel chemotherapy was offered.” By contrast, “Mr. Megrahi almost certainly had excellent care in Tripoli.”┬áThink about that one: Get treated for cancer by the U.K.’s National Health Service, and you’ll be dead by Christmas. But get treated for the same cancer in Libya, and you may have years to live. No wonder Americans are terrified of government-run medicine and rationing boards.

It’s painfully obvious but apparently nonetheless necessary to point that Mr al-Megrahi was in this case receiving care as a political trophy in a petro-state with an open-ended government budget available to embarrass his former hosts. So Yes, his care was probably better than ┬áthe NHS standard available to him in Glasgow, but as Dr Sikora also explains, there was a lot of variability around the now-notorious “3 months to live” prognosis even at the time it was issued. His care was also a lot better than someone without health insurance in the USA would receive, but who wants to descend to cheap health system point scoring based on a single case. Besides the Wall Street Journal.

My own view is that there’s no big conspiracy theory or undiscovered files behind Mr al-Megrahi’s release. Instead, the issue played into the self-righteousness of the SNP government. Up against that, geopolitics didn’t stand a chance.

6 thoughts on “NHS in “worse than unlimited budget for single patient” shock

  1. “the issue played into the self-righteousness of the SNP government”

    Is this simply a pejorative way of saying that the SNP did the correct and humane thing, treating megrahi much the same as any other prisoner in Scotland?

    I suppose it must be – if you know an opponent did the right thing, call them self righteous. If you know they did a popular thing, call them “populist”. Both are routinely hurled at the SNP because they dare to do popular things and right things, quite unlike their opponents who would rather do the utterly wrong thing and be a slave to “geopolitics”.

    What have the terrible consequences been to Scotland because the SNP did the right thing, and angered the gods of geopolitics? Can’t think of a single negative outcome, unless a few cross words from Hillary Clinton is a national disaster.

    If only the UK government had such a spine.

  2. Having been around a good many cancer sufferers in my lifetime, I would say that the notion that there is ‘better care’ for some prostrate cancer victims is a hard idea to swallow. There are some cancers today that are highly treatable, others that are no more well-treated today than two hundred years ago, or two thousand years ago, for that matter, and others that are just unpredictable.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Wally, I think your point is the same one as the article from Dr Sikora. He says that outcomes are all over the place, but the Journal turned that into a slam of the NHS. bc, we’ll have to disagree. I don’t like the release decision because its empirical foundation seemed so flimsy. Sikora tells us that Seif al-Islam and another unnamed fixer were heavily involved in making the case for his release. That alone should have been an alarm bell.

  4. “As an NHS patient” should really be “as a patient of prison medicine”, surely? Prison is not renowned anywhere for being a healthy environment. When Ronnie Biggs was given his compassionate release, he was expected to die within days, but normal NHS treatment saw him last much longer than anyone expected.

  5. Also, remind me, who ran healthcare in the libertarian paradise of Gaddafi’s Libya? Surely not the government. Nuh. Unpossible.

  6. Frankly your analysis is incorrect and seams to assume because he didn’t received the drug it isn’t available.

    Docetaxel is allowed under SIGN (Scottish equivalent to NICE) guidelines and is widely used throughout NHS Scotland. There must have been a reason for it being deemed unsuitable in Al’Megrahi’s case.

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