Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Like The NHS

I'm not having a great day.  And it's only the morning.  The face at left basically describes how I feel right now (spatula and all) after a night of firemen traipsing in and out of my flat in their wet, muddy boots trying to find the source of a leak (more like gushing waterfall) that apparently originated from a burst pipe directly under my flat and essentially caused thousands (if not millions) of pounds worth of damage to the flat below ours and the flat below theirs.  Problem is, the people below us are on holiday.  In the Caribbean.  On a cruise.  So they probably won't be too happy to come home at the end of their pina-colada infused trip and find that their gorgeous French windows leading into the garden have been smashed and water damage done to their extremely expensive paintings and other collectable art.  Because of all this, our water supply had to be completely turned off, along with our boiler, which meant that I woke this morning to a freezing cold, water-less flat. 

In addition, I had a doctor's appointment today, which was fine as I really like my doctor and in fact, love the medical practice I'm registered with on Abbey Road.  As I've moved recently, I presented the receptionist at the front desk with a utility bill showing proof of my new address.  "Great," she said, passing it back to me.  She pointed to the map taped to the desk, with their "catchment" area highlighted in an obscene yellow.  "Can you just check for me on the map that you're still within our catchment area?"  "Sure!" I chirped brightly.  But as I traced the street names along with my finger, I found that my new abode was exactly 1.5 minutes outside of their catchment area (I know this because I walked it today).  "Um ... I'm kind of ... here," I said hesitantly, pointing out my new address.  The receptionist's nose wrinkled.  "I'm so sorry, that's outside of our catchment area."  "Yeah, I know," I said patiently.  "But I thought that once you registered with a GP, you could stay with them regardless of where you moved to.  Besides, I live literally one minute outside of your catchment area," I protested.  "Yes, that is a new government intiative, but until we have a directive, we can't do that.  I'm really sorry," she said regretfully. 

Ok, breathe.  Once you find a doctor (or two or three, as I've found is true at The Abbey Medical Centre) you like, you're very reluctant to change.  Besides, despite the lovely surroundings of Maida Vale, they're short of good doctors.  I've heard horror stories from friends nearby who are registered with the local GPs.  So I appealed to my doctor himself and pleaded with him to make a case for me.  "I'm afraid there's nothing I can personally do," he said, sweeping his hands out helplessly.  "The only thing I can suggest is writing a letter to the practice manager because we sometimes do keep on patients at our discretion."  And, as if recognizing me as a foreigner in the country, he said, "I'm really sorry about the bureaucracy here."  Here, as in the UK.  Here, where a large chunk of my paycheck every month goes to the National Health Services.

But you know what?  (And this is going to be controversial)  I stopped and looked at him and thought, 'there's nothing to apologize for.'  It's no worse than the US, where you wait months and months to see a doctor who sees you for 2 minutes, dismisses your symptoms with a wave of their hand or a flurry of scrawled pen on a prescription pad and pay out of your nose for insurance premiums plus the co-pay and prescription costs.  I have been to the emergency room twice in different parts of England and seen at least 10-12 different doctors in the locations I've lived in and I can testify that I received some of the best medical care and attention I've ever had in my life.  Period.  Now I won't go as far to say that I love the NHS, because days like today can make me frustrated and annoyed with the policies and practices, and I can't say that I've always been 100% satisfied with the treatment I've received, but I can say, hand on my heart, that in the times that I have needed serious help, I've gotten it.  And I'm grateful for it.  Very grateful.  The NHS is a humane practice - opposite of what conservatives and other skeptics in America labelling it "scary" or "murderous".  I'm not saying it would absolutely work for America - I think a lot of changes would have to be made to tailor it to the American system.  But for the most part, it works for England, in my opinion.  And if I must, I am also fortunate enough to have the choice of seeing a private doctor.

I don't want to make this too long, so I'm not going to cite all the examples of when the NHS has helped me or cured me (or my family, as evidenced by the time my dad cleverly managed to leave his diabetic tool kit at home in Washington when visiting me in London).  But I am sick and tired of hearing people complain and not give enough thanks.  Yes, there are problems with it, yes there are horror stories - aren't there the same problems and horror stories in hospitals and clinics throughout the world?  Something to think about.

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