Sunday, August 16, 2009

In the US, my credit card saved my life

The relationship between doctors and their patients is different in Britain thanks to the NHS – and no one is afraid of getting ill.

Mitch Glickstein, The Guardian: 15th August 2009.

There are difficulties with the British health service, but perhaps the most important fact is that no one I know here is afraid to be sick.

For the past 20 years or so my family and I have been patients of Dr Azhar Malik at the Caversham Group Practice in Kentish town, London. A sympathetic man, he has looked after us carefully. When my wife was dying of cancer, he would stop by with medicines or prescriptions on his way home. British doctors will still make house calls when appropriate.

Visits to the GP are short, but most know when a problem should be investigated further. There is, throughout the country, a system of referrals to hospitals. Most consultants and junior doctors are well trained and carefully selected. In my own case, Dr Malik sent me first to a cardiac consultant when I became breathless. Because of anaemia, they in turn referred me to gastrointestinal surgeons, who located, operated and cured a colon cancer some nine years ago.

The relationship between doctors and their patients at every level is different from that in the States; here money does not change hands. An American friend of mine with five children was terrified when he became unemployed, fearful that one of them might become ill. I became ill when I was briefly back in the US some years ago, attending a meeting. With an acute urinary obstruction, the first person I saw, and the only one who could admit me for treatment, was the woman in charge of payment. My credit card probably saved my life.

There may be delays, frustrations and bureaucracy with the NHS, but the system delivers outstanding healthcare at no cost to the patient and far less of the GDP that the US system consumes. Being over 60, all prescription drugs are free. Perhaps it is that absence of fear of becoming ill that is the most important aspect of the system.

It is frustrating to sit in London and listen to some of the outrageous lies that are being promulgated about the British health service in the US. It seems, for example, somewhat unlikely that a government bureau or a committee at our health centre will decide who shall live and who shall die.

My son was three when we moved to Britain. He is currently a junior doctor, working in a London Hospital. Both of us would be happy to spend time in the States speaking against the lies and distortions. I would hope that some of the best of the British system could be incorporated in the US.

See This story too

The photo at the top of this post is of volunteer medical staff in Los Angeles providing medical care in a warehouse to America's unisnsured.