Donald Trump last month delighted in handing out “Fake News Awards” to his journalistic bête noires. But with his tweet this morning on the NHS, the US president has again pedalled fake news of his own. The “Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U [Universal] system is going broke and not working,” he wrote.
From Trump’s tweet, one would imagine that UK protesters were demanding the dismantlement of the NHS when they marched in London on Saturday. In reality, they were demanding the reverse: higher funding to maintain the British model of “socialised medicine” (the demonstration was organised by the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together).
Since 2010, the NHS has endured the longest period of austerity in its history. Having grown at an average annual rate of four per cent since 1950, health spending has since risen by just one per cent. An ageing population, combined with the rising cost of drugs and technology, and the growth of chronic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, all mean that the NHS depends on above-inflation increases. The £4.5bn cut to social care funding has only intensified the pressure on the service (with the NHS acting as a provider of last resort).
But the number of British voters who want the NHS privatised (10 per cent) is even lower than the number who have confidence in Trump (22 per cent). And they have data on their side. The UK spends significantly less than the US on healthcare (9.9 per cent of GDP against 16.6 per cent) and still achieves better outcomes. In 2017, the Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS as the best, safest and most affordable system of the 11 countries it assessed.
Trump’s tweet was seemingly inspired by Nigel Farage, who appeared on Fox News shortly before (“Thank you to @foxandfriends for exposing the truth,” tweeted Trump. “Perhaps that’s why your ratings are soooo much better than your untruthful competition!”) Farage blamed high immigration for the health system’s woes (overlooking the migrant workers on who the NHS depends): “Well the big problem we’ve got is a population crisis caused by government policy on immigration,” Farage said.
“We have a population of 65 million but it’s increasing by half a million people a year. We just haven’t got enough hospitals, we haven’t got enough doctors, we haven’t got enough facilities.”
Trump’s tweet shows he is still paying greater heed to Farage (who he once as proposed as the British ambassador) than to Theresa May. Despite repeatedly embarrassing the Prime Minister with his interventions, the US president still rarely misses an opportunity to meddle. The Conservatives’ hope that they could “tame” Trump has been exposed as the delusion that it is.