‘The NHS is a bit iffy when you sprain an ankle, but when it’s a high-priority issue, it’s fantastic. They don’t mess about. They’re incredibly efficient when things go wrong’ -Sophie Ellis-Bextor
If you don’t follow James Blunt on twitter you really should, he’s hilarious and believe me he hates You’re Beautiful more than you do!
What’s this got to do with the NHS? Well, one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long while is James tweeting that he was officially handing over his cockney rhyming slang title to Jeremy Hunt.
For anyone who’s been living up their own backside (or, more realistically, you don’t live in the UK) Jeremy Hunt is the UK’s Secretary of State for Health, and he’s been making, or at least trying to make, some pretty controversial and unpopular decisions, particularly around junior doctors working hours and so called ‘health tourism’.
I’m not here to get into any mass political debate around who should be working where and for how long or whether people who are found to be coming here just to access free health care should be shipped back from whence they came with a stern letter to their mum. What I do want to do though, is share my best friend’s Meagan’s story about when she came to visit me from America last July and got poorly:
I’m one of the lucky ones—the lucky girl who doesn’t really get sick a lot. I can’t often relate to other women when they complain about the various infections that often happen in our ladyparts because I can’t remember the last time I had one.
Well, until I left the United States.
I touched down in lovely Newcastle on a Sunday in 2015; by Monday, I knew something was wrong. I had all the nasty markers of a urinary tract infection (water infection): urgent need to pee but nothing comes out; burning sensation; dark urine.
I tried to keep this from Helen because I didn’t want to put a damper on things, so I asked the pharmacist at Tesco if there were any over-the-counter medicines available for a UTI. Nope, I needed a prescription.
Helen, being the ever-so-observant friend, asked what was wrong. I finally admitted to the UTI and she immediately drove me to a nearby clinic. I spent the car ride over wondering how much it would cost to visit—would I be out several hundred dollars for simply peeing in a cup?
“How much do you think it’s going to cost for the visit?” I asked Helen when we got out of the car.
“It’s free!” Helen responded.
Duh, Meagan. I hadn’t thought about the NHS because we don’t have socialized healthcare in the United States, no matter how much conservatives try to claim that President Obama is leading the U.S. to socialism. It’s been almost eight years, he better get crackin’ if that’s still part of his plan.
Helen did warn that we might have to wait for a while, but the stars aligned and I was in and out of the clinic with a prescription in about 30 minutes—and that included a lovely conversation with the nurse about the U.S.
The grand total I paid? Free… well, something like $12 after I filled the prescription for the antibiotic. The actual visit was free.
If the roles were reversed and Helen was in the United States, she’d pay at least $155 for a simple visit to an urgent care clinic—and that doesn’t include extra testing and medication. Depending on the illness she could spend as little as $4 to many hundreds of dollars on the medicine to treat it, too. Emergency room visit? Upwards of $1,300 without insurance—and it could very realistically be much, much more.
And they’d want the money up front, too.
I’m well aware that healthcare is never free, no matter where you go; someone has to pay for it—and that someone is the taxpayer. I also understand that medical tourism is a problem because of Britain’s “free” healthcare and can understand wanting to put an end to free surgeries and treatments for those looking to game the system.
But for someone like me, who just needs a quick exam and script? It should remain free—or at least low-cost—to help travelers avoid even more costly treatments that would, ultimately, fall on the British taxpayer anyway since there’s no guarantee that I, the traveler, could afford some special surgery to fix my ailment.
I know we’re not going to fix healthcare here; honestly, I don’t know the first thing about fixing it in a way that would both work and satisfy everyone, because free hundreds dollar bills could fall from the sky and someone would still bitch about it.
What I do know? It was comforting that I was able to receive treatment in the U.K.—and courteous, at that—without breaking the bank. I only wish I could offer the same to Helen when she comes to visit me.
I’ll be honest, when Meagan said she had a water infection my heart sank a little, not because I was being a selfish brat and wanted to go home and drink the Margarita we were buying in Tesco (well, maybe that a little bit). But because from experience, I knew how long a wait in the local walk in centre could be, and I wasn’t entirely sure the walk in centre would see her, I had visions of me arguing with an over worked and under paid receptionist in A&E pleading that she get treatment even if we pulled a Rachel & Monica and she pretended to be me.
We arrived at the walk in centre at around 6pm and the receptionist couldn’t have been more helpful, I explained the situation, she handed us a form to fill out with some basic details, mainly purpose of visit, my details and Meg’s GP back home then asked us to take a seat. Here’s me thinking that we’d be sent away with a carton of cranberry juice, and they have special forms for people who are here on holiday who get ill, should have known really! I’d warned Meg that there may be some wait, so t was to both our surprise that she was seen within half an hour.
Now I know that the NHS isn’t ‘free’ we pay in our taxes, but let me tell you, on that Monday evening, when my best friend who’d flown over 7000 miles to see me for only a week, I was thankful for the service that my tax contributions pays for. I was glad that after her antibiotics she was right as rain again and peeing a perfectly normal colour again (so she told me, I mean, we’re close, but we’re not that close!) and that meant we could go on to do stupid stuff like this for the rest of the week: