I used Stephen Hawking as an example, not of Britain’s failed health care, but of the fact that, under socialized medicine, famous people and politicos always get the gold standard. Charlie (Colorado) kindly pointed out that I’d erred. In fact, Hawking got sick before he got famous. That is an interesting point, since it implies that, even when he didn’t get gold standard care, his treatment under the NHS was still sufficient to keep him alive despite his ALS. It turns out that the Hawking health story is even more complicated than that. It doesn’t stand for my argument that he got nomenklatura treatment, at least in the beginning of his illness, but it also doesn’t put a very good face on the NHS either:
Hawking biographers Michael White and John Gribben, in the second edition of their 2003 book, “Stephen Hawking, A Life In Science,” found that back when Hawking was less well-known, NHS wasn’t nearly as good to him.
In the mid-1960s, Hawking’s father became disillusioned with the care Hawking was getting from NHS and took over his son’s treatment himself, doing his own research and prescribing vitamins.
On his own Web site, Hawking recalls that private help was also critical. “I caught pneumonia in 1985,” he says. “I had to have a tracheotomy operation. After this, I had to have 24-hour nursing care. This was made possible by grants from several foundations.”
White and Gribben describe what that meant: “The best the National Health Service could offer was seven hours’ nursing help a week . . . They would have to pay for private nursing. It was obvious they would have to find financial support from somewhere.
“Jane (his wife) wrote letter after letter to charitable organizations around the world and called upon the help of family friends in approaching institutions that might be interested in assisting them.
“Help arrived from an American foundation aware of Hawking’s work and international reputation, which agreed to pay £50,000 a year toward the costs of nursing. Shortly afterward several other charitable organizations on both sides of the Atlantic followed suit with smaller donations.
I hope you caught the irony there — it was Americans who stepped in and saved Hawkings’ life when the NHS was willing to abandon his care.