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Is the NHS lightyears behind health systems in some developing countries?

I try not write about myself on the blog. There are many much more interesting subjects. But I just wanted to use today’s blog to compare my experience of healthcare in the Land of Smells (LoS) and the UK.

Last week I developed a cough almost losing consciousness during coughing fits. So I headed off to a nearby hospital. It was modern, clean and well staffed. This was a private hospital. So perhaps comparing it with the NHS – a public health service – is unfair. However, locals with even the most basic health insurance could use this hospital and there were some pretty ‘interesting’ characters being treated there – not just the super-wealthy.

At reception, I handed over my hospital card – I had been there 2 years before for a full health check-up. While they found my files (still paper, not yet electronic), a health assistant took me off to have my pulse, temperature and weight taken. Then back to the waiting area. Within 5 minutes I was called in to see the doctor. He asked what was wrong. I gave my best display of coughing myself to death; he checked my breathing with his stethoscope and announced that I needed a chest x-ray.

“Oh” I said in disappointment “I thought you’d be able to treat me today”. He looked at me as if I was mad. “Yes” he said “you have chest X-ray now” and pressed a buzzer. In came the health assistant to take me to the X-ray department; 2 minute wait while the radiologist entered my details into the computer; off with my t-shirt; up against the screen; take a deep breath; hold; done.

Then back to the waiting area; wait less than 5 minutes and I’m called back in to see the doctor. He already has on his computer screen my chest x-ray from 2013 and the recent one. There’s a large blur on my lungs. Either I’m already dead from lung cancer or I have a serious chest infection. We decide the latter is more likely but don’t rule out the former completely. He types some stuff into the computer, buzzes for a health assistant and I’m whisked off to the pharmacy to get my course of antibiotics. All in all, I think the whole thing took less than 30 minutes.

If I remember correctly, I had a similar problem in the UK a couple of years ago. First step – try to make an appointment with a GP. Nothing available for a week, so I have to go along on the off chance someone can see me. After about an hour, I see a doctor. He probes a bit and recommends I have a chest x-ray at a local hospital and fills out an appointment card. I think the x-ray was a couple of days later. So, 2 days later off to the local hospital where I have to be checked in (when they eventually manage to find the right details) and then wait over an hour for my one minute in the x-ray department. I ask when I’ll get my results. Apparently first the x-ray needs to go to the ‘specialist’ and they have to write a report which will get sent to my doctor and then my doctor can treat me. This all took about a week.

Just two points I wanted to make:

1. By integrating GP services with hospital services, the LoS hospital managed to do in about 30 minutes what took more than a week in our so wonderful NHS meaning I could be treated and well an awful lot faster. In fact I was treated and cured in less time than it took the NHS to find out what was wrong

2. By minimising the amount of administration and handovers from one department to another, the LoS hospital managed to slash the administrative cost of treating me and the opportunity for clerical errors, missing files, wrong details etc.

I suspect that even if I multiplied the LoS hospital’s costs that I paid of £60 for my treatment and medicine by a factor of five to match living costs in the UK, the LoS probably treated me for around £300 whereas I estimate that the NHS would have spent somewhere between £1,500 to £2,000 because of all the bureaucracy involved from handing me over from department to department.

I realise that the NHS often gives wonderful care, I realise that I’m comparing a semi-private hospital with a public service and I realise that perhaps the NHS was more thorough as my x-rays were viewed by a specialist and not just an ordinary GP.

But, because most of us have little experience of healthcare in other countries, maybe we tend to idealise the NHS and fail to see that the world of healthcare has moved on in the last 20 to 30 years while our dinosaurial NHS possibly hasn’t?

4 comments to Is the NHS lightyears behind health systems in some developing countries?

  • Stuz Graz

    Our local surgery at 8.30am (Mon to Fri only) has a long queue out the front with the local sick and elderley forced to wait until the door is unlocked. Cold, raining, snow it does not matter you queue.

    They get to watch the range rovers and jaguars drive past them on the way to the rear car park. That is where the private clinic entrance is located which of course opens at 7am. All in the same building and presumably the same doctors.

  • MGJ

    I supsect you are right but, like you, I feel there may be more to it and would like to know more.

    Regrettably politics in the UK is completely dominated by taboo and there is no greater taboo than the NHS. It is now completely beyond the realm of discussion. Just repeat after me: it is massively under-funded…massively under-funded…until you go into a coma.

  • david brown

    Agree The NHS is part of folk memory they are compering now to the past. Or how they imagine it is the USA. Why do people not compere our system with the way its run in France or Germany. The do spend more but the also get far better value for their money.
    The do not have MSR infection and lower septicemia rates. Nor do they seem infected with armies of parasite managers and trusts.

  • Colyn Nicholls

    My wealthy Swiss friend and his daughter visited Edinburgh where she slipped and broke her elbow. After waiting 3 hours, somebody came and slapped bandages in plaster around it. My friend was amazed that such a primitive practice was still in place. He was even more amazed when he flashed his gold-star medical insurance and credit card around trying to pay for this, only to be told that there was no method to claim payment. On contacting his own doctor he was advised to get her home asap so that the cast could be removed and the injury properly attended to so that she would retain 100% function rather than the 90-odd% she would have ended up with under ‘our’ NHS.

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