Friday, November 11, 2011

Private vs. Public Health Care in the UK

A current UK resident posted this short report of private vs. government-run health care onto Facebook. He has given me his permission to repost it here. (I'll refer to him by his initials "OMM".)
Two days ago, while in London, I visited a private (non-NHS) drop-in medical clinic to check on a sore and aching eye. The medical doctor, a nice Indian woman, examined me for two minutes and then advised me to go to an eye clinic. The reason why was that only at the eye clinic could they rule out a serious, but unlikely, eye condition. Since her brief examination was ”so little,” in her own words, and since she weren't prescribing anything, she wouldn’t charge me for the consultation. Instead, she gave me a free map and explained how I could get to the eye clinic. She also advised me to bring some food.

The eye clinic was not private. The first thing that met me was a line and no-one behind the counter. After a little while, a man came, and after another little while, it was my turn. The man did not look at me, but mechanically typed my name, date of birth, and address, and then said – pointing to a crowded waiting room with wooden chairs – that there was a three hour waiting time today. I asked if I could go to a cafe in the meantime. No, he said, I had to remain in the waiting room until they called my name.

After two hours, someone said ”OMM” loud. I jumped up, and was taken to another room where a nurse asked me what was the problem. I answered. 20 minutes later, someone said ”OMM” again. I was taken to another room and a new nurse asked the exact same question. I answered again.

10 minutes later, I met with a medical doctor. He complained that he had insufficient equipment and that the light in his office (which he shared with two other doctors) did not work properly.

After some tests, he concluded that I probably just have conjunctivitis, and prescribed some eye drops.

When I got out of the clinic, I noticed that on the prescription it read ”Use every 2 days.” I thought the doctor had said ”2 times a day,” so I went back in and asked. And, yes, he had written it down wrong. He meant two times a day.
The closest counterparts we have in the US to the British National Health Service is the Veterans Administration medical system. Most medical students who have rotated through a VA hospital know how bureaucratized and inefficient they can be compared to a decent private hospital. The last thing we need is for all of American medicine to become like a bad VA Hospital (or the UK NHS).