11/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Real NHS

This fall, I am studying abroad in Bangor, Wales. It's a trip I've been planning for over a year, so I was somewhat less than thrilled to fall ill with walking pneumonia two weeks before I was scheduled to leave. The doctor prescribed antibiotics and ordered a week off from work. I took the antibiotics, stayed home from work, and prepared to leave the US for the first time in my life.

But walking pneumonia is a stubborn thing. As I sat in the Atlanta airport coughing, I realized that the bacteria that had made my life miserable for the past two weeks was still intent on wreaking havoc in my lungs. So on my first full day in Wales, I made a trip to the local hospital.

What I found was the exact opposite of the socialist hellhole conservative commentators warned me about. The waiting room was small, neat and clean. The nurses were friendly and the facility was modern. No elderly women with broken hips languished for want of doctors. No death panel prevented me from seeking care. And those long waits we've heard about? Nonexistent. I waited a grand total of thirty minutes before seeing a competent doctor who prescribed me a course of penicillin. Best of all, I paid not one pence for the entire experience.

I grant that the hospital of a small city like Bangor is not likely to have long waits or overworked doctors. But I am a native of Appalachia, and I know that the quality of a nation's rural health care is a good indicator of the quality of the rest of its health care system. Based on what I experienced at Gwynedd Hospital, I would walk into any hospital in the UK confident that I would receive the treatment I needed. I cannot say the same of American hospitals.

No system is perfect, and I do not deny that the National Health Service has flaws. Yet it is not the bureaucratic disaster that so many pundits have declared it to be. I base this not only on my treatment at Gwynedd, but on hard evidence. The Office for National Statistics, which is an office of the British government, released a report in May 2009 that listed the infant mortality rate in England and Wales at just 1.9 per 1000 births. Compare that to the American rate of 6.77 per 1000 births reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

According to reports released by the Office for National Statistics and the CDC, the UK also has a higher life expectancy rate. Other statistics state that 24% of British adults are obese. However, over 33% for Americans are obese. Information released by the same agencies show that Americans are also more likely to have cancer and diabetes.

Simply put, British citizens are healthier and live longer than Americans. Contrary to the rhetoric produced by the conservative fringe, socialized medicine is not killing people. In the UK at least, it is creating a society that is healthier than that of the US, a country that purports to be the leader of the free world. My treatment at Gwynedd Hospital is just one example of socialized medicine at work. The evidence speaks for itself.