August 23, 2013

Carol's NHS Experience

"A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures."  Unknown

Carol writes:  Living a wandering, busy life on the road for an extended period of time becomes much more challenging when one of us gets sick.  One of the most tiresome of illnesses is the relentless hacking cough that is worse at night.  After eight days, we mutually decided that I needed the services of a doctor for help with my never-ending cough.   We asked campground personnel how to go about obtaining urgent but non-emergency medical care on a Sunday.  We were told to go to the local hospital where there was a clinic of doctors that operated ‘out of hours.’  This turned out to be South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.  Oh, what a big beautiful new complex it was!

We found out later that the hospital had only been opened a year ago in a ceremony conducted by Queen Elizabeth. 

Pictures from the outside didn’t do this hospital justice.  Inside I felt like I was in a futuristic medical facility with windows everywhere along tall, airy corridors.  It was Sunday, so maybe that partly explained the largely empty long, long corridors.  The view outside the cafeteria windows was of cows grazing in a luscious green field.

A few feet beyond the hospital entrance door I was buzzed into the after-hours clinic and was told walk-ins were not seen there and that I needed to call for an appointment.  I was given a paper with the number to call, so we went back outside for cell phone coverage and called for an appointment.  A nice nurse asked me a series of questions to help her decide my method of treatment.  I told her I thought I needed to be seen since I had been sick for over a week and I wasn’t getting any better; she agreed.  It was noon by now, and the nurse booked me an appointment for 12:05.  She said I would be buzzed right in, and that is exactly what happened.  There was only one other patient waiting to be seen--a little boy with his mother.

Within 5 minutes, I was called into the exam room by a nice young Irish doctor.  He listened to my history of why I was there, all the while nodding his head as if he had heard these symptoms many times before.  A quick listen to my lungs confirmed that I had a “little phlegm” at the bottom on the left side.  The doctor then rolled his chair over to a medication cupboard and handed me a complete course of antibiotics and some antibiotic eye ointment for my red and inflamed eyes.  Al asked about something for the cough at night so we both could get some sleep, and he promptly gave me a computer-generated prescription for a cough medicine containing codeine.  He did not have this in his medication supply cupboard, but he said I could fill it in town only between 5 and 6:30 that evening since the pharmacy was open only for an hour and a half on Sundays.

We shared small talk with the doctor about what he perceived as our travels of a lifetime, and he seemed curious and approving.  As we left to go, we asked about payment for the visit and medications and we were told the visit and the prescriptions were free of charge, courtesy of the National Health Service.  I had made it plain on check-in that I was an American citizen, but that didn’t matter—all of my medical needs that day would be free of charge in Northern Ireland!

Back out in the hospital parking lot, we spent a few hours in the RV playing cribbage, then went into Enniskillen and obtained my codeine cough medicine in about 5 minutes—once again, free of charge and with no hassle over getting a medication with a narcotic component.

I must admit I was a little surprised that at no point was I asked to show an ID, either at the clinic or at the pharmacy in Enniskillen.  I did not have to fill out reams of paperwork giving my entire medical history and that of my family.  The only information I had to provide at the clinic was my name and address.  At the pharmacy, the clerk simply called my name out and gave me my medication.

Both Al and I were flabbergasted at how easy it was for me to get medical care under the government-run National Health Service.  The fact that a foreign traveler would also be treated—at no cost and with zero paperwork—was astounding!  It was gratifying in so many ways to be in a country that values human dignity and provides healthcare for all its citizens.  It has been pointed out to us many times in our conversations with other travelers that America is perceived as having the ‘best’ and ‘biggest’ of many things…and at cheaper prices.  Some speak in almost envious tones.  However, lack of medical insurance for 50 million of our citizens is not something I brag about.  In the United Kingdom healthcare for its citizens is provided by both private and government-run agencies, with the vast majority being provided by the government and paid for through taxation.  In every instance, when we have asked about the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, to a person they have all been happy with it and their choice of doctors.

By the way, Al and I had a blessed night’s sleep the first night I took my codeine-containing cough medicine.  I am on the mend!

In conclusion, many people in the eight countries we have visited so far have subtlety let us know that they look up to the United States.  Every one of them has spoken very approvingly of President Obama, and they wonder why he is involved in so many political disagreements.  The only other blatantly political reference I will make in this blog is:  Why can’t we compromise and find a way to make medical care available to all of our citizens who need it?

Off the soapbox for now and on with the rest of our travels…

“Sláinte!”  Irish Gaelic for Cheers/Health   



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