RIGHT-WING American politicians and commentators have been denouncing the British NHS in the most lurid and hysterical terms.

Former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has described the NHS as “evil” and attacked President Obama for allegedly wishing to create “Death Panels” to decide the fate of disabled people. The tone is more suited to the denunciation of witchcraft.

The American debate (if it can be called that) is bewildering to most British observers.

There are actually some good aspects to American healthcare. It has pioneered surgery techniques, has impressive cancer survival rates and benefits from attentiveness to patient service.

It is also extremely expensive and, most shockingly of all, around 45 million Americans have no health insurance. So despite spending more money, infant mortality rates in America are much higher than in advanced European nations.

Americans would benefit from opening their minds to the possibility that there might be something to learn from other countries. Germany and France are not as primitive as they imagine. And we would benefit from the same, introducing sensible reforms which improve patient care and service.

But, for me, there is one non-negotiable feature to British healthcare: everyone must be covered, regardless of their financial circumstances. It is this principle that has made the NHS a treasured institution.

And far from being “evil”, we are right to regard it as a being a central feature of living in a just society.