1. Like a lot of people in America, Dr Jen Gunter, an obstetric gynaecologist and writer, had heard bad things about the UK’s National Health Service.
2. But that wasn’t reflected in her experience when she took her son, Victor, 11, to St Thomas’ Hospital while on holiday in London this week.
As Gunter writes on her blog, Victor got something caught in his eye while her family was in Parliament Square, and it couldn’t be removed.
“While I am a staunch supporter of the British NHS, in the back of my mind I envisioned a paralysingly full emergency room and an agonising 18-hour wait only to find he had nothing in his eye (the basic antechamber of hell scenario),” she writes.
So they visited St Thomas’ Hospital on Westminster Bridge, overlooking the houses of parliament, expecting to be in for quite a wait.
3. She writes that while the hospital was “on the aging side and a little drab”, it was a well-run institution, and they were seen quickly.
We were walked over to the urgent care clinic and were warned that the ophthalmology registrar was covering the whole hospital so it might be a while. This was our longest wait, about 20–30 minutes.
Dr Katie Williams (she gave me permission to use her name and her photo) diagnosed Victor with a corneal abrasion and easily snagged the offending speck of dirt wedged under his eyelid. Once removed, Victor exclaimed, ‘It’s gone!,’ and within a minute or two the redness cleared up. She put in antibiotic ointment and gave us a tube to use at home.
4. But when Dr Gunter offered to pay – as is standard in America if you don’t have the right insurance – she was refused.
‘So where do I pay?’ I asked Dr. Williams.
The answer: You don’t. Perhaps they might bill us, she just wasn’t sure.
I was about as dumbfounded at her answer as she was at my asking.
I protested that it wasn’t fair. We had used services and I was very prepared to pay. I also have insurance that covers emergencies when out of network, so I was pretty sure I would be reimbursed at least some of the visit. However, we were just sent away. They do have my address so it is possible I will get a bill in the mail.
I am very curious what similar care would have cost in the US. The saddest commentary of all is that it is really impossible to tell as billing practices are so bizarre and opaque. My guess is it would be a minimum of $1,000 in America for cash (which is egregious).
5. And her take on the British NHS experience overall?
But what of this idea that national health care means DMV-purgatory-worthy waits, Dementor-staffed death panels, Saxon-age medical equipment, and incompetent care?
Well, I can tell you we had great care at St. Thomas’ and Dr Williams was fantastic. The slit lamp wasn’t brand new, but it worked just fine. … I’ve been to the ER more times than I can count with my other son and this was as smooth as the best care we’ve had in the United States.
6. Right-wing US commentators have used NHS waiting times and the way it makes decisions about drug funding as examples of the ills of socialised healthcare.
Republicans opposed to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act have criticised the NHS – which is funded by the UK taxpayer and provides treatment for free at the point of use – as “evil” and “Orwellian”.