Up until this week, I had no need to try out the British healthcare system. But then I sprained my ankle, which made me think perhaps it was time to visit my local General Practitioner (GP).
In the UK, the NHS is the agency that oversees the comprehensive and (largely) free public healthcare system. The obvious big plus is that everyone, rich or poor, can access medical care. The big minus is that the process of getting an appointment can be long and painful, and as in the US, no patient wants to resort to going to Casualty (the ER).
When we moved to our neighborhood, we knew from word of mouth that we should “register” with our local GP’s office. That’s the way it works – new neighborhood, new GP. No shopping around through all the doctors available in your healthcare plan (a la US private healthcare).
What I learned this week is that there are two ways to get an appointment with your local GP: (1) you call up whenever you want and see when the next available appointment is (usually a week away); or (2) you call up the day you want to go at either 8:30 am or 2 pm for the few spots that are set aside each day for “day of” appointments.
I worked from home today, hoping to use Option #2 in order to get some immediate advice on how best to treat my sprain, which wasn’t really getting better despite ice and ibuprofen.
At 8:15 am, I started the redial game. It was like trying to get a reservation at Per Se before they’d opened! Busy signal-redial-busy signal-redial.
At 9 am, I finally got through, and of course all the walk-in morning slots were booked. The GP office told me to try again at 2 pm for an afternoon slot.
2 pm saw pretty much the same pattern as at 8:15 am. I ended up making a “regular” appointment for next Monday, at which point my ankle will probably have healed or ballooned into something nasty and crying out for Casualty.
My experience has not been the most impressive, I think.
I asked the local pharmacist at Boots where I could find naproxen (sold as Aleve in the US). Alas, naproxen is a prescription-only medicine in the UK. That’s kind of sad to hear considering how risk-averse I have (until now) considered the FDA. Who knew naproxen was that powerful that only a doctor can prescribe it?
Anyway, I’m limping a little less as the days go by, and Jon is going to be my mule and bring back some Aleve from the US this weekend.
All things considered, I hope I don’t ever really need to use the British healthcare system, because my choices will then be to wait a week to see a doctor, spend a day watching nasty trauma cases rush ahead of me at the ER triage, or pay a lot of money out of pocket to see a private doctor.
As a big John Rawls fan, I support and respect a universal healthcare system, but as someone lucky enough to have had private health insurance in the US, I’ve got to admit that universal healthcare (as practiced in the UK) is a definite step down. Theory colliding with reality once again. Do you choose equality over a possibility for higher-quality service? I suppose you don’t if you’re likely to be among the lucky ones who can get the higher-quality service in a less-equal world.