LONDON - Prime Minister Gordon Brown has joined thousands of Britons in an online campaign to defend his country's health care service against U.S. Republican attacks.
Opponents of President Barack Obama's health care plan have taken aim at the U.K. in an effort to discredit his proposals, saying he seeks to turn the U.S. system into a government-run regime similar to the one run by Britain's National Health Service, or NHS. But the attacks have hit a nerve here, where the population largely takes its cradle-to-grave coverage for granted and looks askance at the millions of Americans living without health insurance. Britons have flocked to Twitter to defend their country's health system, making "We Love the NHS" one of the micro-blogging sites most popular terms.
Many of those posting Thursday said they were appalled at the right-wing attacks, some of which implied that older Brits weren't treated for cancer because it wasn't worth it, or that English people were so desperate for adequate dentistry that they used super glue to fix their teeth, or a statement, by Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, that Britons simply didn't value human life as highly as Americans.
One tweeter said he was disgusted that some in the U.S., which is fighting alongside Britain in Afghanistan, would malign their trans-Atlantic ally.
"The NHS is something that we treasure, built by our ancestors," Pete Smith, 42, said in a telephone interview. "To see it derided by politicians and corporate goons is deeply offensive."
Smith, who is HIV-positive and lives in London, said he gets the medication and therapy he needs free of charge. "I would not survive in America, not three months," he said.
He and thousands of others were joined by Brown, who tweeted: "NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there."
The criticism of the NHS coming out of the United States has been widely covered here. One news anchor jokingly told a U.S. guest Thursday that he hoped she would learn that "we don't operate with screwdrivers." A cartoon on the front page of Friday's The Daily Telegraph showed a British doctor saying he preferred the U.S. health care system because "their hospital TV dramas are so much better."
A report in the Times of London said that the British Embassy in Washington was reaching out to U.S. media organizations to correct factual errors in their reporting on the NHS. Back in London, the Department of Health has been reaching out to U.S. journalists too, taking the unusual step of emailing the AP a three-page rebuttal of what it said were misconceptions being circulated by U.S. critics of Britain's health service.