Friday, 5 November 2010


What do you do with a roomful of Norwegians? This is not a joke, tempting though it may be to come up with a few witticisms. No, this is a true story. The answer? Ask them a searching question about their nation.

A roomful of Norwegians were in the middle of a day-long conference which was, allegedly something to do with work, although none of them had the remotest idea as to what that might be. They sat there passively, enjoying the toe-curlingly strong coffee that had thoughtfully been provided for them. They were all given a sharp pencil and a piece of paper... even in industry, some people still use these archaic instruments. They were asked to write down their top five favourite things about Norway.

Their minds leapt from mountain to fjord, from snow to sea, from fish to ski, from cosy hytte to the spankingly-new opera house in Oslo. They all scribbled away feverishly.

The next question was to write down the five reasons they would choose to stay living in Norway. Once again their imaginations veered off into the outdoors towards some visually sensational landscape replete with reindeer, moose, Arctic fox and a serious dump of snow on which it might be possible to ski. You will have realised by now it is remarkably difficult to stop a Norwegian thinking about skiing.

But this question was slightly trickier. And when they were asked to put their five answers in order, it became a considerable tease. So, it is fascinating to discover that every one of them came up with the same Number One reason.

And that reason was......the Norwegian Health System.

I have been speculating as to whether or not a roomful of Scots would come up with the same unanimous answer. I suspect the NHS may not be the chief reason for people staying in this country, but perhaps I’m wrong. Why not find a roomful of Scots and carry out an experiment for yourself?

As the US mid-term elections have been splattered across the media, and with Obama’s moves towards healthcare reform appearing to be one of the many issues that are irritating so many US voters right now, I have been considering our attitudes to the NHS here in the UK. For many Americans, the idea of a health system that is free for all from the point of need is inconceivable.

But for us in the UK, the reverse is true....the idea of NOT having the NHS is inconceivable. Naturally, our health systems in both Norway and the UK are not perfect, and we all know horrible stories of things not working out as they should. The Norwegian system is similar to ours, although if a patient is in need of medical attention, there can be some payments along the way...for example, if I went to see my GP, I would be charged a portion of the doctor’s fee. So, it is not ‘as free’ as it is in the UK, although National Health Insurance covers all costs involving hospitalization.

We all have our health horror stories. But we also all have our health wonder stories.....the times when extraordinary expertise coupled with genuine, skilful care has brought great, life-changing joy. We know it’s not perfect, but I believe we do, after all, cherish what we have. We also all know that the funding of the NHS is akin to funding a bottomless pit. Unlike Americans, we at least HAVE a free health system. We also, for the time being at least, have less unemployment, universal child allowance, and we can still educate our students at top universities for a fraction of the cost of the US equivalent. Whichever flavour of government happens to be in power, we have to pull ourselves out of a world-wide credit crunch while trying to preserve some of the aspects of living in the UK that are most precious to us. With all the doom and gloom around, it is easy to forget that many people in the world don’t have it so good.

I’m reminded of the BBC’s Andrew Marr and his comment at the conclusion of his mega TV series on the ‘A History of Modern Britain’....he remarked that, at the end of the day, it is the most incredible piece of luck to have been born British.

I’m going to try out that experiment tonight.


  1. I have to say as an adoptive Scot, I actually DO rather often thank my lucky stars for the NHS. I know people in the States who have no medical insurance and it really is a nightmare. Even those with medical insurance can have enormous monthly bills for prescriptions. So, yes - thank goodness for nationalised health care.

  2. The NHS has been excellent for our family over the years. I know it is not perfect, but it is there and if we are sensible about how we enter into our medical care, it will see us through life and out the other end. Unless the present coalition has other ideas of course.

  3. Christine and may have weak points, but it's very well-worth cherishing