Don’t worry, I’m still here

Readjusting back to school life after our trip, I’ve had a pretty low-key week.  My friend Nikki, who lived next door to me freshman year and in my dorm last year and is currently studying in Madrid, visited London this weekend, so Friday and Saturday were spent doing touristy-things that I had unfortunately already done.  On Sunday, however, she and Erik (my roommate at NU) went to Oxford for the day, giving me a chance to get to the Churchill Museum and War Rooms.  If you have a chance to visit them, I would definitely recommend it!  The War Rooms are the bunkers that the British leaders lived and worked in during the Blitz of WWII, and they were left untouched and in perfect condition (including many wall maps with the pins representing battalions still in their 1945 places).  It also clued me onto how much of a badass Churchill really was in his witty rhetoric and rousing oratory skills.

I try to keep these posts as innocuous as possible, but I feel like I should comment on one particular experience that I’ve had in London that I have not been impressed with: the NHS (National Health Service).  I don’t want to say anything about the politics of government-sponsored healthcare, but as a part of living here, it’s a fairly important program.  Before you start to get worried, I haven’t had to use any of the NHS services, but after three experiences with helping people with their various ailments enough to mention it.

Having taken Economics of Medical Care back at NU, I knew how the NHS’s service worked for treatment – if you want to see a specialist, you must first go to see a “gatekeeper” general practitioner who will hopefully be able to treat you themselves – if not, and you need to see a specialist, you are referred to one only after you have seen the GP.  Once referred, the average wait time to see a specialist is 3 MONTHS (!!!), during which time it is very difficult to jump the queue unless you are near-death.  Keep in mind that most services are 100% government-sponsored, so there would not be any additional costs to the patient in most cases.

The first was on London move-in-day, loading the bus up to head back from Swansea, when my friend rolled her large suitcase over her flip-flop clad foot, pulling the toenail clean off of her big toe (mental images not for the faint of heart).  Of course, the two (adult) program coordinators, bus driver,her host mother, and most of the students (mostly social science majors) were too squeamish around blood to help, so I ended up cleaning, sterilizing, and bandaging her toe by myself while they provided moral support to my hysterical friend.  When we finally got back to London, a group of us accompanied her to the ED: this is where the NHS story begins.  After waiting 45 mins to be called upon, she is taken to what she describes as a storage room – shelves of medical supplies and a worn out desk chair.  She is taken care of by a 20-year-old second-year medical student (that’s a topic for another day) who incorrectly administered local anesthetic and then did little else to actually treat her.  She was sent home, without crutches or a wheelchair, and given a script for painkillers that she couldn’t pick up at the hospital pharmacy because they didn’t stock them.

My second story is when another friend severely sprained her thumb and went to the ED for fear that it was broken; I accompanied.  After checking in with the desk nurse, we sat and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  This went on for an hour before she was called back for an Xray, leaving me by myself in the waiting room.  She was texting me throughout her time in the back, telling me how disheveled and unorganized everything was, and how she was basically sitting alone in the consulting room.  All said and done, in the 3 hours that we were there, she had only had a total of about 20 mins of contact with anyone remotely related to healthcare.

The third is not really a story, but a comparison about Swine Flu treatment.  Back at NU, the school set up a mass vaccine/shot distribution program, intended to be given to every student, basically as soon as the shots were released to the public. The school set up quarantine dorms, distributed personal hand sanitizer bottles, tissue packs and facemasks, and opened the health center for extended hours.  On the other side of the pond, UCL hung posters telling people to drink water and cover their mouths.

Like I said before, this is not meant to weigh in on the healthcare debate, because the last thing I want to do is bring about controversy, especially when the issue is so divisive.  But this was a part of my London experience that I felt should be relayed to those back home who (I hope!) will not have to deal with the patient-side of medicine in Britain.

That’s all folks.  KLTD.

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