I read that headline in UK’s Daily Telegraph yesterday. It reminded me of a friend of mine, let’s call her Inga.
In 1995 Inga, a 24 year-old woman in perfect health, twisted her knee during an aerobic class. She had no history of knee problems. She went through the Swedish system and wound up having what was meant to be routine surgery. After surgery she was crippled and told she would never walk again without crutches. When she confronted the surgeon he shrugged his shoulders and said “So I made a mistake, no one is perfect.” Her complaints to the hospital fell on deaf ears. The doctor was not reprimanded.
Inga went to a specialist in Germany who examined her records and her knee. The specialist said that in 25 years of practicing medicine he’d never seen anything like it. First, it was his opinion that surgery was not required in the first place. Second, he said that aside from damaging her cartilage, virtually every ligament in her knee had been severed by the surgeon. Inga has now been on crutches for 14 years. Despite several procedures she has paid for herself in Germany, she will most likely never regain use of her knee.
Inga’s story has always bothered me. Not just the level of incompetence that is tolerated in the Swedish medical system, but the sheer arrogance of its practitioners and administrators. That’s why this news story is no surprise.
A group of Scandinavian orthopedic surgeons called the “flying doctors” were brought in to help cut waiting lists in the UK. A recent audit of their work from 2004 to 2006 on over 200 patients showed that 37% of the procedures had unsatisfactory outcomes with 22% needing to have the procedure redone so far (with more expected). In the final analysis the number of operations botched by the Scandinavians was TEN TIMES the UK average. Lawyers are considering legal action against the doctor’s for their negligence.
Most telling is that all the Swedish surgeons were considered top-notch by the standards of the Swedish health system. Are we to assume then that the best surgeon in Sweden is ten times worse than an average surgeon in the UK? It would not surprise me. In fact, if medical schools in this country are run like the rest of the educational system (stress-free zones pandering to the dimmest and least likely to achieve), then I’d say 10 times worse sounds about right.
So next time some one tells you that healthcare in Sweden is “free”, you might remind them that it seems you get what you pay for.