I’ve a friend at home and he used to write down all his ailments in a notebook. He’d save them up, his health concerns and when he felt like he’d collected enough, he’d book an appointment to see the Doctor. It cost 60 euros to see our local Doc, about the cost of a good night out. No one wanted to waste money set aside for pints and curry chips on trying to resolve a fit of sneezing or a stiff neck.
It didn’t matter so much then, we were hardy. A visit to the Doctor was a rarity that was made rarer by the fact we had to pay for the privilege. So if you were a frugal hypochondriac, like my buddy, you arrived at the GPs with an A-Z and rattled through your list. If like the rest of us, you weren’t too fussed you just arrived in an emergency.
Reckless as it sounds, health care and the cost of same, was only something to be addressed in an emergency. That was the culture. I’m sure it still is.
I guess that’s why I’m staggered by the counter culture that exists in Britain. Because to a thirty-something cynical journalist, the NHS always felt like a political football kicked about by Labour and the Tories. As for ‘Free health care at point of entry’ that sounded like a wordy jingle I never really believed in until I was granted some entry of my own.
The experience left me whooping my support for the NHS when they entered the stage at the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
My ailment, in premier league football parlance, was a knock to the knee.
So I organised an appointment with my local GP, for free, who then referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon, for free, who in turn directed me to sessions of free physiotherapy. Throughout I discovered that I received postal confirmation of all my appointments…invaluable really, for anyone of disorganised disposition.
I know this declaration of love is nothing new, but the experience is new to me and if anything this level of service felt too good to be true. How could I get all this care and attention without having to seek out a bank machine on any of my journeys to Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton? How was it that three different qualified health professionals could be assigned to deal with my ‘knock’ and no-one sought my credit cards details.
How could I be further referred to a specialist of even greater expertise without even having to explain how long I have lived here and whether it is my intention to stay, and contribute some kind of comparable tax figure to the economy. No one asked the questions I was asking myself, and even better, no one wanted any of those answers.
So I rang another buddy in Scotland – my doctor buddy, who I occasionally ask for medical advice on such columns – and asked him how this could all be so.
I told him my A-Z, explained how much time was involved in the consultations and how many I attended. He told me the level of investigation and attention I had received probably cost the NHS a four-figure sum and we aren’t finished yet.
He explained the NHS was originally se-up to provide care for veterans of WWII, rather than knock-to-the-knee merchants, and grew into something all-encompassing from there. He praised his older patients who realised that free point of entry healthcare is truly a privilege and bemoaned the thousands who take it for granted and clog up the system.
He spoke words like sacred cow and used terms like public ownership then sighed and said the level of service provided was unsustainable, but for any government to say so would be political suicide.
I told him the Brits had been spoilt and that free health care was an entitlement I didn’t feel entitled too, at least not to the level I have experienced. But of course I will embrace it, if it is there, but so too would I be more than willing to pay a nominal fee at point of entry and tell the Doc that I’m more than happy for the tax-payer to look after the rest.
Enjoy it while it lasts because health care is getting ever more expensive and the subtle reforms currently taking place within the NHS means we’re are already on the road to a fairer and more responsible system of care that will involve some kind of cost.
Now where’s my notebook?