As I see it

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That Britain is proposing the most radical reorganization of the National Health Service (NHS) since its establishment in 1948 is significant and sobering—but not surprising.  

Details of the plan are sketchy, but the aim is clear: shift control of England's annual $160 billion health budget from government bureaucrats to local authorities—almost the precise opposite of what's beginning to happen here at home, post-healthcare reform.

Andrew Lansley, Britain's Health Secretary, promised to put more power in the hands of patients. Currently, how and where patients are treated is largely determined by 150 government-run entities known as primary care trusts. All this while Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is trying to push through changes to medical practice aimed at saving money.

According to Her Majesty's government, “Liberating the NHS, and putting power in the hands of patients and clinicians, means we will be able to effect a radical simplification, and remove layers of management.” Imagine that!

There are lessons aplenty for us over here on the other side of the pond. Lessons about the inefficiencies of centralized government healthcare. There's no need to call it “socialist” when you can just say: “See, it doesn't work.”  Lessons about what happens when your system is based on a cost-centric rather than a patient-focused philosophy of healthcare. Who needs “death panels” when you have “deny panels.” And, finally, lessons about money.   

Oscar Wilde quipped, “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” If that's the case, then we should learn from the experience of our trans-Atlantic cousins.

Peter J. Pitts is partner/director of global health at Porter Novelli and a former FDA associate commissioner
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