There have been some ridiculous claims being made recently about foreigners coming to the UK to abuse the great free British health care system, better known as the NHS.
Oh really? Coming from the Czech Republic (one of those post-communist eastern European countries whose immigrants are so much feared by the British authorities), I have already been travelling home, performing health care tourism in the opposite direction, to get my teeth and regular check-ups done in Prague, despite the fact I have to pay for it from my own pocket it as I work, pay taxes and have my health care insurance currently here in the UK.
But this approach is not viable when you actually get sick. A couple of months ago, I experienced a fit of extreme pain during my period. The pain was such I wasn’t able to do anything. I was lying in the bed curled in a ball, with fever, trying to breathe through it as the pain killers wouldn’t work. I am 30 years old, so no newcomer to female menstruation. I have been having periods for the bigger part of my life and I know how the normal period pain looks like. But this was far from normal. I was lucky it was Saturday; otherwise I would have to take a day off work.
Unlike the Czech Republic, where every woman is expected to find a gynaecologist basically as soon as she starts having periods and see him/her at least once a year for a regular check-up or immediately when something goes wrong (and all this is covered by the mandatory healthcare insurance), here in the UK you have to go and talk to a GP first (they usually have a pretty bad reputation of being dismissive) and persuade them to actually refer you to a qualified gynaecologist.
So I went to the NHS St. Peters Street medical centre in Islington and asked a GP, a lovely lady in about her forties, to refer me to a gynaecologist, describing to her the torture I had been through and hoping that being a woman, she would understand.
Well, I was very wrong. She took me through a lecture of how female hormones and body works (oh, thank you, but I had been through this at primary school, or do I actually look so stupid?). Then she told me she was not going to refer me to a gynaecologist as my experience was pretty normal, however, as she said, just to make me feel better, she would send me for an ultrasound. At the end of the appointment, she reassured me patronisingly again she was certain the scan wouldn’t find anything.
Now let me go back to the Czech Republic for a while – I would regularly get an ultrasound scan done, whenever my gynaecologist would spot something unusual during a regular examination or if I was complaining about anything. If I were in excruciating pains during my period, my gynaecologist would try to accommodate me as soon as possible (within hours or days) and immediately do the scan before referring me to someone even more specialised. All this would be covered by mandatory health care insurance.
Now, back to the UK. When it comes to ultrasound scans, they are absolutely not flexible here. It took me four months to have mine done, as I had to cancel the first appointment I was given due to my period arriving earlier than expected, accompanied again with agonizing pain. The next available appointment was a month later and looking into a calendar, I saw immediately it would again fall into this time of the month.
So four months since my problems had started, I finally had my scan done and a whole week later was back to the St. Peeter’s Medical Centre. A friendly, young male doctor probably of Indian origin appeared to be much more open minded than the lady earlier. Looking into the documentation sent from the ultrasound centre, he confirmed the diagnosis I had in the meantime made myself – endometriosis, two large bloody cysts on my ovaries and some additional disgusting stuff. (Later I realised my Czech gynaecologist suspected I might have had endometriosis a couple of years ago and was monitoring one small cyst on my right ovary which actually wasn’t giving me any problems at that point in time).
While I am still waiting for my referral to be finalised, I would discourage any ‘medical tourist’ from any Eastern European country from coming to the UK for medical reasons (the British actually believe the NHS is envied throughout the world as well as the BBC, would you believe that?).
Trust me, and I lived in the Czech Republic for most of my life – though it has many problems, the health care system is much better there, they only have to get the financial aspects right and give less for free and pay the nurses and doctors better).
As I obviously can’t travel home every time I get sick, I will sign up to the private healthcare scheme provided by my company, which I had previously rejected as I thought I wouldn’t need it. Yes, I was wrong, just hope the private scheme offers care which is at least decent.
What I don’t understand on the other hand is the fact that while NHS delivers such a bad job when it comes to prevention and addressing female problems, they pay for abortions and contraceptive pills.