National Health? National Hoax

Having lived in England for 10 years, I can attest to the fact that there is a National Health Service and that it does work…sort of. As they say in the classics: It’s better than a poke in the eye  with a blunt stick. While I’m sure the Accident and Emergency department at any local UK hospital would be happy to treat an eye injury inflicted by a blunt stick, it would take up to 4 hours before any treatment would be administered. My own experience is a waiting time of 3 hours. Fortunately I was not taken to A&E after being attacked with a blunt stick. I was merely battling to breathe during a severe asthma attack and was on the point of turning blue. I think the nursing staff are highly trained, though, to check the skin colour against a colour chart they have on the wall to determine just how blue the patient should be before they are bumped up the priority list as opposed to, for example, little Jimmy who has his head stuck in one of his Mum’s pots.


I hope I will never find out how blue I will have to be before receiving more immediate attention. When I was eventually taken into a room by a nurse, 2 hours after arrival, I was put onto a nebulizer, which didn’t do much to alleviate my condition. I was checked in to the hospital for the night and pumped full of everything they could think of including magnesium – which is supposed to do something, but just made my veins feel cool. So I battled through the night before taking matters into my own hands. I swallowed an antihistamine tablet that I happened to have with me in my bag. Job done. I was able to sleep for a while before being declared fit to return home when the doctor finally made his morning rounds.

Why am I telling you all this? My point is that the medical establishment in the UK doesn’t really seem to know how to treat many conditions that are presented to them, which is scary. My experience with the General Practitioners was more like seeing a health counselor than a doctor. Despite my asthmatic condition I think my ears and eyes were checked perhaps three times while a stethoscope was used to listen to my chest four times in all the ten years. On the other occasions the doctor would look at me, presumably to check that I was still alive, ask what was wrong, think a bit and then tap out a prescription on the computer, which he or she then printed out and slid across the table to me with a cry of ‘NEXT!’ From this I can only conclude that becoming a GP in the UK involves a level of psychic training that enables them to make a diagnosis without actually touching the patient, but merely by looking at them. In mitigation, perhaps the reason for this is that each patient is allocated only 10 minutes’ audience with the doctor such that doctors have been relegated to the role of medically educated data capturers, which causes them to become bitter and demoralized.

Having returned to the UK albeit just for 3 months, I decided to register Frank and myself at a local doctors’  practice, as Frank had been experiencing debilitating headaches on a regular basis for some time and had more recently found blood in his nose. I thought these symptoms serious enough to go through the pain of registration just to see if the doctor would do something to ease his symptoms. After presenting ourselves a the surgery, completed forms in hand, we were told we would have to fill in different forms, as we would be registered as temporary patients. Forms handed in, we were told to wait for two days before trying to get an appointment. Waiting times for permanent registrations was up to 5 days, so I felt we had been given the better option. I called the surgery on the third day after registration only to be told “sorry, you’re not registered yet.” And then, defensively: “We’re really busy at the moment.”

In the interest of my new attitude of tolerance and patience, I let her off the hook with: “OK, I’ll call again later in the week.Thanks for taking my call.”  I called again two days later and tried to make an appointment, thinking ‘surely they will have registered us by now’. Not so. “You’re not registered yet”, she said. And then again: “We’ve been really busy this week.” Now I could have left it at that and called again the following week, but I decided to add: “Well we have serious health problems…” There was a pause at the other end of the line as this morsel of information distilled in her thought process. “Oh….”, she said, “Well I can give you an appointment tomorrow at 8:20 am.” Just like that. I guess if you don’t speak up you don’t get anywhere. One just trusts that the system works even if it doesn’t.

The following morning I coached Frank on questions that the doctor might ask and the answers he should give.  I did this because he has confidence issues with those in authority and also because English is not his first language. Sure enough, the doctor asked him all the same questions. After telling her that he had been having constant headaches for over a year and that he had blood seeping from his nose, she asked him if he’s allergic to anything, to which he replied: some pollen. Grasping at the easy option, she scribbled a prescription, which not even the Pharmacist could read. However, after some interpretation, it was apparent that she had prescribed antihistamine tablets and a nasal spray, both of which are for hay-fever and can be purchased without prescription! She didn’t check his sinuses, eyes or ears nor did she make any move to approach him to see if, God forbid, he may actually have something more serious than hay-fever.

Needless to say, we will be visiting a private GP for a half-hour session. It may cost £120, but at least we get to demand that the doctor demonstrates some skill with the stethoscope and other instruments typically used by doctors. It will be worth the money just to witness what seems to be a forgotten art in the surgeries of the UK NHS doctors.

© 2016

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