Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle didn’t just expose the royal family – it also revealed just how the broken US healthcare system is

Oprah "what"
Oprah’s reaction to Meghan Markle’s claim that a member of the royal family was concerned over her baby’s skin color.

  • Oprah interviewed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in a highly anticipated CBS special.
  • Viewers from the UK were shocked by how many pharmaceutical ads ran during the American broadcast.
  • Their medical costs are covered by the government, and their reactions expose how broken the US healthcare system is.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

In the year since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped down from their official duties as extensions of the British monarchy, scandalous, albeit unverified accusations came about from either side of the conflict. It all culminated in the royal couple’s primetime interview with Oprah, which revealed allegations of racism and abuse.

While the interview exposed the royal family’s callous treatment of Harry and Meghan, the conversation it drove online inadvertently exposed how broken the US healthcare system is. The interview aired from 8 pm to 10 pm Eastern in the United States, meaning that UK residents had to stay awake until the early morning hours to watch. As they did so, they became shocked and concerned by the existence of something Americans consider normal: a swarm of pharmaceutical ads.

“watching american adverts during the megan and harry oprah interview is so surreal, why are so many of them for meds?” tweeted one UK-based viewer.

“HELP why are all american ads about medicines??” tweeted another.

The answer is just as ridiculous as the existence of the ads themselves. The United States’ healthcare system was constructed on the idea of making money. Helping sick people is just a side effect.

Money is the motive

It’s easy to forget just how messed up the US healthcare system is – we Americans have lived with it our whole lives, which makes it “normal” – but the reaction to pharmaceutical advertisements by people living in Europe illustrate just how convoluted the American arrangement is.

“American adverts make me feel like I’m in some post-apocalyptic world” one viewer tweeted.

That’s because in the UK, the vast majority of people’s healthcare is administered by the National Health Service (NHS). When you get sick, you go to the doctor and are cared for at no cost “at the point of use,” meaning that the service itself is subsidized by taxes, but the actual care is free. If you are sick, you go to the doctor and are treated at no cost. If you have an accident, you are delivered to the hospital and operated on at no cost.

You don’t need insurance in the UK because it is provided through the NHS. Some supplemental insurance can be added, but only 10.5% of UK residents have that extra insurance.

Since the government is the almost exclusive buyer of medicines, the NHS negotiates a rate that it pays pharmaceutical companies and then provides the medicines to NHS users. Therefore, there’s no reason for pharma companies to aggressively advertise, and, in fact, these types of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads are banned in the UK.

In America however, pharmaceutical companies are competing to win over consumers and drive up their profits. Instead of having a nonprofit government entity to negotiate on their behalf, average Americans either have to fend for themselves or rely on insurance companies – who are also profit-driven – to negotiate the price for them.

That’s also where the ads come in. There are often multiple, competing brands of any given medication, so drug ads are designed to drive people towards more expensive name brand drugs and push people to try drugs they may not need. All of this is moot in a UK-style system where the government does the negotiating with drug companies.

The results of the profit-driven US model are devastating. Let’s use diabetes type 1 for example, a condition where the body can’t make enough insulin, which causes high blood pressure and affects more than 1 million Americans.

There are three competing insulin manufacturers in the US, the lack of competition and ability to negotiate for higher profits has in turn driven the cost of insulin so high that people are engaging in “insulin rationing,” or using less insulin than they should be, to make the doses last longer. This sort of rationing has led in some cases to death. The Twitter user above may have been joking when they described this as “post-apocalyptic,” but a system where it’s necessary to ration anything you need to live fits pretty squarely into that definition.

Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry raked in $1.3 trillion, with a “t,” in 2019.

And on top of these drug costs, American also have to deal with soaring insurance premiums and high, uncertain costs for basic needs, like ambulances.

It makes sense how dumbfounded UK viewers were when they saw American commercials for medication. They live in a system that doesn’t penalize you for something you cannot control.

The need for an American universal healthcare system, like Medicare For All, only intensifies with time. As long as our healthcare system prioritizes profit over people, we will continue to look ridiculous to the rest of the world.

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Boris Johnson is cutting nurses’ pay in real-terms after telling them ‘we owe you more than words can say’

boris johnson clap for carers
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes part in the weekly “Clap for Our Carers” event in Downing Street on May 28, 2020 in London, United Kingdom

  • Boris Johnson has been criticised for announcing a 1% payrise for NHS workers this year
  • Nurses said the pay increase would only amount to £3.50 a week in take-home pay, which amounted to a cut after inflation.
  • The government said pay awards should be “both fair and affordable.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Boris Johnson faced heavy criticism from unions and political opponents today after revealing he plans to give NHS staff an increase to their basic pay of just 1%, months after telling nurses “we owe you more than words can say” for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 1% figure covers 2021 and 2022 and was published in a Department of Health document this week. Labour said the figure amounted to a real-terms pay cut for NHS staff due to inflation.

It comes after Boris Johnson in May last year paid tribute to NHS nurses after he was admitted to intensive care with COVID-19.

“You continue to cast light on the darkest moments of our lives. And for that we owe you more than words can say,” the prime minister said in a video message addressed to nurses.

The government said the pay increase reflected the fact that “COVID-19 has placed a huge strain on both public and NHS finances” and said pay awards should be “both fair and affordable.”

The Royal College of Nurses (RCN) called the decision “pitiful and bitterly disappointing” and said the pay review would amount to only an extra £3.50 a week in take-home pay for an experienced nurse.

“The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public,” said Donna Kinnair, the RCN chief executive.

“If the Pay Review Body accepts the government view, a pay award as poor as this would amount to only an extra £3.50 per week take-home pay for an experienced nurse.

“Nobody would think that is fair in the middle of a pandemic and it will do nothing to prevent the exodus from nursing.

“Nursing staff would feel they are being punished and made to pay for the cost of the pandemic. It is a political decision to underfund and undervalue nursing staff,” she said.

“The government is dangerously out of touch with nursing staff, NHS workers and the public,”  The group called for a 12.5% increase for nursing salaries.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, on Friday criticized the government’s decision on Twitter.

Sharing a Daily Mirror front-page which branded the pay deal an “insult to NHS heroes,” Starmer said: “You can’t rebuild a country by cutting nurses’ pay. Give our Covid heroes a pay rise.”

Sarah Gorton, the head of health at the trade union Unison, said the 1% pay rise was “the worst kind of insult the government could give health workers who’ve given their absolute everything over the past year.”

“Ministers should hang their heads in shame, go back to the drawing board and come up with the kind of pay rise that matches the astounding efforts staff have gone to in the past year,” she said.

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Hospital officials apologize for UK ad showing Santa Claus with COVID-19, saying it wasn’t meant for children

Santa Claus with coronavirus NHS The Gift
Santa Claus being wheeled into a hospital in “The Gift,” an ad from the NHS.

  • UK government officials apologized for a Christmas charity ad showing Santa Claus nearly dying from COVID-19 in hospital, saying the spot wasn’t meant for children. 
  • The National Health Service scrubbed “The Gift” from its YouTube channel, as did those involved with the making of it. 
  • A top YouTube comment on the video read: “Absolutely disgusting. Total misstep. As if kids have not been through enough. Shame shame shame on you!”
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Not even Santa Claus is immune from the coronavirus, according to a UK government ad showing him being rushed into a hospital at death’s door.

The advertisement, called “The Gift,” begins with an older man with a white beard being ushered into an National Health Service (NHS) emergency room. He’s on a hospital bed. NHS staff hovers over him, shining a light into his face. He’s being given oxygen. By the end of the 90-second spot, he’s recovered. After leaving the hospital, an NHS staffer figures out his true identity: Jolly Old St. Nicholas. 

After the ad appeared late last week, it was removed from the NHS YouTube account and others that had posted it. As of Sunday, “The Gift” had been scrubbed from almost everywhere.

Santa The Gift NHS
A screenshot of “The Gift” ad, showing Santa Claus recovering from COVID-19.

In a statement, NHS Charities Together apologized to kids who had seen the ad, but also said that it “isn’t aimed at children and hasn’t been shown on TV.” The charity said it had at first received positive feedback, but chatter on social media quickly turned sour. 

“We worked closely with the team behind the ad to make sure it was produced responsibly and it was cleared for use by the relevant regulatory authority. However, we are sorry to the parents of any young children who have been upset by watching the ad and to the young children themselves, they were not the intended audience for it,” the charity said in a statement on Saturday. 

By midday Sunday, the only version available on YouTube seemed to be from a children’s talent agency, which said it had been involved in making the spot. That version was also removed Sunday afternoon. 

Comments left on the video before it was removed ranged from confused to outraged.

The top comment read: “Absolutely disgusting. Total misstep. As if kids have not been through enough. Shame shame shame on you!”

Santa in hospital NHS "The Gift"
Santa Claus looking over lists of naughty and nice children in “The Gift” ad from the NHS.

The spot was produced by Iris, a digital media agency, according to a brief posted on Campaign Live, a site that collects information about advertisements. Ads of the World said “The Gift” was NHS Charities Together’s first Christmas campaign. 

Actual NHS staffers were invited to be in the film, according to The Drum

In a statement, NHS said: “We created our Christmas campaign to highlight the ongoing commitment and hard work of NHS staff and volunteers to keep us safe and well in what has been and continues to be a really challenging time for the NHS.”

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England due to begin mass vaccinating people on Tuesday. ‘This coming week will be a historic moment,’ said the Health Secretary.

Pfizer BioNTech coronavirus vaccine clinical trial, vaccination of first volunteer
A volunteer receives an experimental vaccination for the coronavirus in a clinical trial at the University of Maryland’s medical school.

  • England will start administering COVID-19 vaccinations beginning on December 8.
  • The National Health Service (NHS) said in an official statement the first people to get the vaccine will be people over 80, care home workers, and NHS workers who are at “higher risk.”
  • The first batch of vaccinations will be done at hospitals around the country, with GP surgeries starting to administer injections starting the week beginning December 14. 
  • As more doses of the vaccine become available, the NHS plans to set up mass injection centers in sporting venues and conference spaces.
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This coming week will be a historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

England’s National Health Service (NHS) has released the details of its official rollout of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which will begin early next week.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This coming week will be a historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19.

“We are prioritizing the most vulnerable first and over-80s, care home staff and NHS colleagues will all be among the first to receive the vaccines.”

The UK became the first country to authorize the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, which Pfizer says is 95% effective.

The NHS said vaccinations would begin on Tuesday and that the first “wave” of injections will be done at 50 hospital hubs.

“People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk,” the NHS said in a statement. 

The NHS said patients aged 80 or over who are already in hospital as an outpatient or being discharged home after a hospital stay would be among the first to get the vaccine. Hospitals will also start inviting over-80s to come in for a jab and talk to care home providers to get their staff vaccinated.

“Any appointments not used for these groups will be used for healthcare workers who are at highest risk of serious illness from COVID,” the NHS said.

Patients will need to return for a booster jab 21 days after the initial injection, the NHS said.

“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday. The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will be landing at hospitals by Monday in readiness,” NHS national medical director Stephen Powis said in a statement.

“The NHS has a strong record of delivering large-scale vaccination programs – from the flu jab, HPV vaccine and lifesaving MMR jabs – hardworking staff will once again rise to the challenge to protect the most vulnerable people from this awful disease,” he added.

The NHS said that the following week – starting December 14 – a small number of GP surgeries will start administering the vaccine. Eventually, the vaccine’s rollout will include large-scale vaccination centers in sporting venues and conference spaces, according to the NHS press release.

Pfizer told the BBC on Wednesday, December 2, that the UK will receive 800,000 doses of the vaccine this coming week – meaning the first wave of two-shot vaccinations will be enough for roughly 400,000 people.

In total, the UK has ordered roughly 40 million doses, meaning it will have enough to vaccinate 20 million out of its population of 66.7 million.

The UK has been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, on Friday recording over 60,000 total deaths. Counting all deaths where coronavirus is mentioned on the death certificate, the UK has surpassed 75,000.

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