Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the struggle of living abroad. This is mostly because two dear friends of mine settled abroad for the very first time in their lives and now, three years later, are still struggling to adjust. As someone who […]
Tag: living abroad
Living life as an expat sure sounds exciting when you’re first embarking on that journey, but it can come with its own set of unique challenges you definitely won’t find in your home country. Even so, there will come that day where you suddenly realize […]
After moving to the UK recently, I’ve had a chance to experience how universal healthcare works. I’d heard plenty of horror stories – usually from Americans somehow terrified of the idea of affordable or free healthcare. Some people told me it would take months, even years, to get certain medical procedures done. Others claimed that the universal healthcare systems in countries like the UK were so overwhelmed that you’d be forced to wait hours with a fracture before being able to see a doctor.
You can imagine, then, my trepidation at going to see a medical professional here in the UK. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the right treatment if I needed it. Maybe I would just be better off acquiring private insurance on top of the NHS coverage. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, my experience is just one of thousands and I’m sure there are people out there who have had legitimately bad experiences, but in any case I’d like to share a little bit of the process I went through so you can judge for yourself.
Getting an NHS number.
The first thing I had to do when I arrived in the UK (if I wanted healthcare) is to register and get my NHS number. The way this works is you search for NHS clinics located near where you live. You can walk in anytime and register provided you bring along proof of address and your UK ID. You fill out a form at the clinic, turn it in, and you’re automatically given a number. The whole thing took me about fifteen minutes.
After that, you’re required to make an appointment to get a quick checkup. This means you’ll come in at a later date and a nurse or doctor will go over your medical history with you, check your weight, etc. They’ll also have you pee in a cup and test you for certain diseases.
Going to the doctor.
After I was registered, I wanted to go in to see the doctor about a lump I found in one of my breasts. I’m still pretty young to have breast cancer, but my mom fought it off five or so years ago and I always figure it’s better to be safe than sorry. I called the clinic early one morning and managed to book an appointment for the next day. I went in armed with a book because I assumed the doctors would probably be overbooked and most likely running behind schedule (that’s how it works in almost every country I’ve lived in), but in the end I only waited about fifteen minutes before one of the doctors admitted me for a checkup.
After doing a breast check, the doctor felt more comfortable referring me for a sonogram and told me that the clinic would make the appointment for me. The hospital where I would have to go for the checkup would then get in touch with me. When I heard this I assumed it meant that I’d be waiting several weeks before hearing anything about an appointment. Not so. Within a week and a half I had an appointment set up for me at a nearby hospital.
Going to the hospital.
So I showed up at the hospital the morning of my appointment again armed with a book. I was glad I had it with me because by the looks of the waiting room, which was quite full, I was going to be there a while. I hadn’t been waiting twenty minutes before my name was called. This was surprising to me because it all seemed to be working a lot more efficiently than I’d previously assumed was possible. Another doctor gave me a second opinion, then sent me over to another wing of the hospital for the sonogram. Again, I waited maybe fifteen minutes before being admitted for the procedure. The whole process was surprisingly quick.
Even though it turned out to just be a regular old lumpy boob, none of the doctors made me feel stupid or self-conscious for wanting to get it checked out. One lady even told me that I should go back anytime I felt something unusual because it’s always better to make sure everything is okay. The fact that I can get a breast exam without feeling guilty about it puts my mind at ease. Even better, I don’t have to pay huge amounts for tests that are a requirement for me as a woman. I never understood why in so many countries getting a pap smear or a breast exam is so expensive if it’s something every woman absolutely must do to be healthy.
Throughout it all, I have yet to meet a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional that has been anything other than kind and friendly. I have since been back to the doctor for a fungal and bacterial infection and both times have been quick and easy. Getting the medication I need is also a pretty painless process considering that I pay a flat fee of just over 8 pounds per medication. In the US the cost would be much, much higher for both healthcare and for medications. I mean, I once paid close to 500 USD to a clinic in Minnesota for removing an earring from an infected piercing.
In the end, my perspective on universal healthcare has changed for the better. I see that it CAN work and I understand that having access to healthcare like this should be a right, not a privilege. We shouldn’t be forced to pay huge amounts of cash (on top of paying for insurance) just so that we don’t get sick and die. Since I’m coming from a country that does pay some of the highest healthcare costs of any developed nation in the world, being able to experience universal healthcare in a country like the UK feels like a definite luxury!
What is your experience with universal healthcare? Is it positive? Negative? I’d love to hear what you think!
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