On ‘Socialised’ Medicine – Or How Healthcare has Worked for me in the UK


Image from makeandsee.com.

So as you may have read yesterday, I’ve had a recent medical issue which has been most unpleasant. The way healthcare works in the UK is that you have to first see your GP for everything (except emergencies), and once you’ve done that, s/he’ll either solve the issue or send you along to somewhere where they will.

As my symptoms originally appeared related to my eye, I registered for, and went to, a GP. A nurse at the GP’s office saw me and suggested that I go to Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, given that I might not see the GP so late on a Friday, and that’s what we did.

We went to the A&E (accidents and emergencies, what is called an “Emergency Room” in the US) at Moorfield’s, and we filled out the forms and waited. Within about 45 minutes, a nurse saw us, and asked some initial questions. We then waited at a different place, and about 45 minutes later, a different nurse saw us with different questions. After being told to wait in a different section, another nurse did some eye tests. We then waited about an hour before we saw an eye doctor.

The eye doctor was thorough, and diagnosed my right Horner’s Syndrome. He also wanted us to go straight over to Royal London, which we did, having taken a cab. (They volunteered to get us an ambulance, but that seemed like too much hassle.)

At Royal London, we went straight to the desk, and they told us to go straight to the A&E area. We met a male Asian nurse who spoke with a Scottish accent, which has to be one of the most incongruent (but kinda cool) things I’ve seen in terms of people and accents since arriving here. (Interestingly, there seemed to be a high percentage of male nurses here as compared to the US.) Our Scottish-Asian nurse took some blood and did a couple of other things (BP, etc.) and then sent us to the imaging centre. We waited about twenty-five minutes there, and I got my chest X-ray done. After that, a wait of about thirty-five minutes preceded my neck and head CT. The X-ray was quick and easy (I hugged a machine and waited), and the CT was relatively quick and easy too. (The contrast dye they inject you with makes you feel a bit funny, but this was explained to me beforehand.)

After that, we spent a good part of the evening waiting for the results and the diagnosis. That was the longest and most difficult part. We were eventually seen by a doctor, as they were a bit backed up as they’d had quite a few patients come in (it was Friday night after all) but eventually the doctor gave us the diagnosis and the recommended course of treatment.

All told, the experience lasted about eleven hours, from 2pm Friday until approximately 1am Saturday morning.

I also consulted with a friend in the US who is a neurologist, and he agreed with the course of treatment.

There was one small hiccup – we were given a prescription to fill by the A&E doctors at the hospital pharmacy on Saturday. Unfortunately, that was not open. Since the hospital prescription is a different type of prescription, we had to go to a walk-in clinic to get it changed to a regular one. Once that was done, it was a simple matter of getting the prescription filled, and the NHS fee for that is £8.05. There was a wait of about two hours in the walk-in clinic, and the trip back to the hospital, both of which were unnecessary based on the A&E doc’s incorrect information about the hospital pharmacy being open on the weekend.

Since then, I’ve had a follow-up with my actual GP, and a consultation with a private neurologist based on my private health insurance, and refilled my prescription again for £8.05. To see a private neurologist, I had to get a referral from the GP (which he suggested anyway), and then I had to call the insurance company and get a pre-authorisation. I also had to check to make sure that any neurologist I saw would be on my plan, so I went through a list online with a lady on the phone from the insurance company. After that, I called/emailed a few of them, and there was one doctor who booked me himself to see me the next day. He was kind and funny, and the roughly forty minute appointment was helpful and informative. (I also got to see the scans that were taken, as I’d called Royal London to have them linked so this doc could see them.)

I must say that the health care here, both private and public, has been exemplary so far. It’s a far cry from the horror stories that you hear in the US, where they complain that socialised medicine is the end of the world. While I still tend to think that governments shouldn’t be in the business of health care (or any business, for that matter), at least here in the UK they seem to do it well. The most difficult part was the waiting, but the coolest part has been walking out of various health facilities knowing full well that I’m not going to get a bill. (I pay a standard percent – 6.9% – of my pay check as an NHS fee, and also have private insurance through work, and have spent a total of £16.10 in prescriptions, roughly the same as a US co-pay.) Of course, in the US, for what little I’ve had to experience of the healthcare system (a scratched cornea a few years ago), I spent a fair amount of time waiting in the ER for that too. I would suspect that for emergencies, the two health systems are comparable in terms of experience and effectiveness.

I’ve not tried anything elective here, or in the US, so I really can’t say as to how they work. Hopefully, that won’t be the subject of a future post. 😉