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I originally began this diary in a sarcastic and caustic tone, opening with the sentence, "Today I ventured into the belly of the beast, a horrible, nightmarish death tunnel of socialized medicine." The accompanying photo would have confirmed my sense of irony and wit:


But, in truth, I just can't do it. I am too emotional to make jokes as I ponder the inspirational experience I had and lament the fact that if my children are sick, at home, they will encounter just the opposite. Sometimes humor is the best weapon, but it's not in my arsenal right now. Stick with me if you want to learn a bit of what it was like for a foreign national visiting the UK to engage with the National Health Service today.

I am a US citizen, from Louisiana, traveling in the UK (or travelling as they would write here, spellcheck be damned) and I came down with a nasty cold in the wet October weather. It's doubtful that I would have gone to see a doctor if I were at home, largely because my Blue Cross deductible is so high that it never kicks in. I would have tried to tough it out. But, being over here and thinking that I might not have as much resistance to the bugs floating around, and also because I'm travelling and generally exhausted and my immune system is weak, I thought I should see someone. So, I found myself at the Gateshead Walk In Centre.

Upon entering I gave them my name and date of birth. As I started to give them my home address, they stated that they only needed the address of the hotel where I'm staying locally. It was clear right off the bat that they were interested in my HEALTH, not some kind of strangling web of information by which they could prevent lawsuits. They wanted the info in case they needed to reach me. Wow. Nothing to sign, at all. (Though they did have a sign stating that anyone who didn't feel comfortable giving information out loud due to concerns about privacy could have the forms to fill out themselves. Once again, the patient came first.)

As I sat down to wait, I noticed this sign (very poorly photographed, sorry):


"On evenings and weekends GATDOC and walk in services can be extremely busy.  Waiting times can average up to two hours.  Please be patient, you will be seen."

Okay, so THAT'S the horror of a waiting room in a socialized system? I've waited for more than 2 hours for my private doctor in the US plenty of times and have never been greeted with an apology or any sense that the time I spent waiting was valuable in comparison to that of the doctor, the employees, etc. As it was, I waited for about half an hour before being seen. No problem. At all.

I also noticed this sign, which would infuriate US health insurance companies and big tobacco at the same time, no doubt.  

smoking flyer

The Smoking Advisor is on the taxpayer's payroll? Someone gets paid to help people kick one of the most addictive and health-destroying habits on earth? Damn straight! Because we're all in this TOGETHER!

While waiting I saw a mother and her young daughter playing with a wonderful bunch of toys and equipment they had out for children. I overheard that the young girl had hit her head at school and the mother had brought her to get checked out, just in case. Again, I imagined my own daughter in a similar scenario. In this case, the mother brought the girl in, she was seen right away, given a clean bill of health, and they were out the door within a few minutes. No big deal. Took only a tiny bit of anyone's time, but it was worth it. Yet I knew that if I'd had that concern about my daughter, I would not have brought her in.  I would have weighed the $100 it costs to see the pediatrician, or more to go to the emergency room. She would not have seen a doctor, I know, and that makes me damn sad.

In looking around the waiting room, I also saw some flyers for other programs. Given the economy everywhere, more people are losing their jobs, and this program is designed to help people deal with that:


"Made redundant" translates into American as "got fired," of course! This program faces the reality that many people are losing their jobs and tries to help them cope. Imagine - acknowledging a problem and trying to help people through it. Radical (okay, my sarcasm's creeping back in. Sorry.)

We all know that systems of socialized healthcare want to encourage the death of the elderly, right?  Well, what about a system in which medical teams actually come to your home to see you and assess your health in your own environment? Check out the NHS Urgent Care program:

urgent care

"...aim to prevent hospital admissions by providing skilled, nurse-led urgent care to patients in their own homes." House calls. Remember them? Me neither. Can you even imagine a doctor or nurse coming to your home in a non-emergency situation?

Or are your problems dental in nature?  You'd hope, perhaps, that children and women who are pregnant or have just been pregnant, or people with low income, or others having a hard time, might be covered.  They are:


And if you are one of those who has to pay, how about $80 for a root canal? And less than $400 for absolutely everything you might need, period.

dental charge

Here's another program, or series of programs, put on by the NHS to help people deal with stress and other mental problems.  There are several others, like helping young people with addiction issues, dealing with STDs (free home kits for people under 25, where they can test themselves privately and regularly, etc.), looking for signs of stroke, etc.  In general, there is a sense of compassion in the things being offered, a sense that we are all invested in each other's well-being.

take control

I ended up seeing a nurse and a doctor today, after the very short wait I described, and was given a prescription for antibiotics which have already helped me. My prescription cost less than $15 and I received the medication then and there. Though I'm not certain of the exact policy, I could see that many people get free prescriptions.

My doctor was extremely friendly and concerned. She answered all my questions and helped me as completely as I could have hoped. There was no charge as I walked out the door. Not a penny.

In preparing to leave I looked at a flyer about getting to and from the Gateshead Walk In Centre.  If you check out the list, you'll se they have nice priorities -- "Walking is a healthy form of exercise and generates no pollution." Reality. Health. Environmental health. And if you do need a cab, a free phone to call one.


I'll post one last picture.  It broke my heart because it reminded me of Nataline Sarkisyan and how CIGNA denied her a life-saving liver transplant, even after her family had put all their faith into the American health insurance system. Obviously they need organ donors in the UK, as they do everywhere, and this pamphlet is about encouraging people to go that route, so it in itself is not different from what we might see in the US. But the idea that a girl died because CIGNA refused to pay for the procedure, and not because there were not organs available, is infuriating beyond words. It had not occurred to me until seeing this pamphlet that someone may even have died, having signed up as an organ donor, with the feeling that at least they would help others to live, and that they too were robbed of the opportunity to save Nataline's life. As trifling as that is compared to the Sarkisyan family's loss, it's still another example of the multiple crimes that CIGNA and other insurance companies have inflicted on the American people.

Today, I saw an example of a healthcare system that is about HEALTH and CARE. Period. We've waited long enough.

transplant flyer

Originally posted to waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:20 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Thanks for sharing your experience (12+ / 0-)

      in the UK.  We need more of this.  Hope you're feeling better.

    •  Welcome to "Gatesheed" pet--glad you feel better! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, waydownsouth

      If you're stuck in town for any length of time and want to see a down side of Gateshead in a great film, see if you can find a copy of "Purely Belter." Other than the carpark chase scene from "Get Carter," it's Gateshead's only claim to cinematic fame, and will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.

      What you'll learn is that Gateshead is a tough old town--high unemployment, quite a bit of crime by UK standards, family breakdown, some disastrous urban planning decisions that it's only starting to undo. It's been hit hard since Thatcher's pit closures and shipyard closures, and the hits have just kept on coming ever since. But they're a canny lot, and I miss 'em--spent 7 years in Sunderland, just to the east. Speaking of which, the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens is a good, free day out. Tell 'em somebody called "expatyank" who used to work there sent ya, I suspect they'll know just who that might be ;-)

      Anyway, here's what's great--in a town where the economic factors are similar to Flint or Cleveland in the US, the healthcare system is up, running and promoting good health in every possible way. It's working, even under tough conditions.

      I love, love, love single payer health care.

      PS: My husband used the home-based urgent care service, receiving IV antibiotics twice a day from fantastic nurses when he got cellulitis (you don't want it) in his leg. GREAT care from lovely people. No bill.

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:58:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your reply. I wish I had the time (and (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the good health) to take you up on some of your suggestions.  Only here tomorrow and then to points further north....

        Great to hear about your husband's experience with Urgent Care.  (Well not great that he needed it, but great that the care was what you would hope.)  I started to reply to the person expressing fears about racism that the nurse in the Urgent Care photo is of non-Caucasian descent, and both he and his patient look happy as clams, and the pictures of the "take control" flyer, too, shows some diversity...... but there's no point in opening up that discussion.  If I want to talk about racism, I've got plenty to look at in the US before I take any hint of a position over here!

        Thanks again for taking the time.  Best to you....

        "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

        by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:45:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wow, I want one of those. Glad you're feeling (8+ / 0-)

    better and thanks for writing about your experience.

    Remember Descent Highest Form of Patriotic - Moranic teabagger sign

    by blueyescryinintherain on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:26:47 PM PDT

  •  Thank you. (10+ / 0-)

    It's great reading that countries that actually care about their citizens' health and the care they receive treat guests just as well.

    How refeshing and sadly foreign and unfamiliar.

    "Ancora Imparo." ("I am still learning.") - Michelangelo, Age 87

    by Dreaming of Better Days on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:27:16 PM PDT

  •  Yes, but do they treat you if you're not (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueyedace2, Larsstephens

    Caucasian?   The pictures don't look so promising in that regard . . . .

    •  I can assure you (8+ / 0-)

      that the only people they will not treat are green aliens with purple spots exceeding 2 tons. But that is only on Tuesdays; they, too, are seen all other days.

      The Justice Department is no longer a credible defender of the rule of law or the Constitution.

      by Overseas on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:37:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  LOL, the NE is pretty solidly caucasian (3+ / 0-)

      and they probably used actual employees and local models. There is a small immigrant population in Newcastle, just north of Gateshead, an even smaller one in Sunderland to te east, and a good sized, 100+ year old Yemeni population in South Shields, but otherwise, well, any ethnic rivalries are far surpassed by the football ones. It's not black and white, it's "black and white" v "red and white".

      Anyway, discrimination's not allowed in the NHS. They'll even see yanks!

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:02:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You have to remember that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy, Larsstephens

      Britain is 92% Caucasian.  They have far lower racial diversity then North American nations, and as such tend to ignore race most of the time at the institutional level.  The absence of non-Caucasian faces in the literature is just a reflection of the minimal presence of Caucasian faces in the population.

      "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

      by Thassa on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:47:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And the right wing nut job media... (8+ / 0-)

    ...characterizes the NHS as tantamount to being thrown in a dungeon. When basically they're like Kaiser with Her Majesty's Government footing the bill. I have a friend in the UK who works for the NHS and she complains about the bureaucracy and the mind-numbing nature of the job. But she will defend to the death the health care she receives through them.

    The next Single Payer Happy Hour is 10/30/2009. Come in costume!
    Heterosexual married couples have SPECIAL RIGHTS.

    by Pris from LA on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:29:47 PM PDT

    •  Well... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pris from LA, Larsstephens

      I had an experience with the NHS when I was visiting the UK.  The treatment was fantastic and free and included a daily visit to the place where I was staying to change dressings. as they were in an unreachable place.  I didn't need to spend so much as a penny.

      The only "issue" I had (and I say this laughing) was that they would not let me leave the country until I had healed.   They told me that if I had no lace to stay or financial issues cause by this they would provide accommodation and whatever I needed to live.  Didn't use this as I was staying with in-laws.

      So, yes it can be a bit "Kaiser" like but only if you try to act against your own best interests.

      Hell, if you are sick it is worth visiting the UK just for the better treatment - and I live in a country with a national health scheme of its own.

      Best Wishes, Demena Left/Right: -8.38; Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.36

      by Demena on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 06:07:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I live in the UK and generally the care is very (7+ / 0-)

    good. But like most pamphlets its not always as great as it suggests. The most prevalent is good luck in finding an NHS dentist. They are as rare as a reasonable republican these days.

    Repent. The end is extremely f*cking nigh.--28 days later

    by voroki on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:32:17 PM PDT

    •  Which is likely to be a problem here too even (5+ / 0-)

      if we get a decent public option. I can't be certain but I don't think any of the bills being discussed have any mention of a public dental plan.

      Remember Descent Highest Form of Patriotic - Moranic teabagger sign

      by blueyescryinintherain on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:35:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  But even private dentists are (6+ / 0-)

      reasonable. I get a deep full mouth cleaning with novocaine for 40 Euro.

      The Justice Department is no longer a credible defender of the rule of law or the Constitution.

      by Overseas on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:40:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree - it can never be as good as the ideal, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Panda, Bernie68, jayden, Larsstephens

      which is always presented in the pamphlets, of course.  I'm not saying it's perfectly executed or anything like that.  Just conveying my experience and lamenting the lack of such a system in the US. Given that nothing can ever live up to its ideal, I'd way rather start with an ideal that actually has the health of people in mind rather than profits.

      "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

      by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:46:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The intent of the system is what's important. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Larsstephens, Santa Susanna Kid

        The execution may have problems and forever need tweeking and that's expected. But like you noted in your diary, the British intent is to provide access to healthcare everyone and anyone unlike here in the US where the intent is to maximize profits for insurance executives and shareholders.

        Through all your faults and all my complaints, I still love you.

        by jayden on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:57:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Want to come here then? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bernie68, Larsstephens

      I have supposed dental coverage.  I'll gladly trade with you.

      "She had to sell everything she owned and froze up inside..."

      by Panda on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:04:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  not a problem AT ALL in the NE or West Midlands (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      But in London and the home counties, yeah. Maybe because it's so much more expensive to live there? Don;t know about other pars of the country, but hre in Birmingham the ones in my neighbourhood have no wiating list.
      That said, my son has moved to Leeds for Uni and has to wait about 6 weeks to get an NHS dentist, that's the first time we've ever had to wait in 8 years here

      Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
      "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

      by expatyank on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:05:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Still, 6 weeks isn't THAT bad. I have to wait as (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chigh, Larsstephens

        long to get an appointment with my dentist if it's to do any major work. I have some work I'm not doing right now because it would cost $2000.  So, I would gladly wait 6 weeks and pay a maximum of $400.  Sounds pretty damn good, all the way around....

        "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

        by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:37:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yeah, and he won't be paying at all, the lucky (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          sod. Eligibility is based on his "income," and student loans and benefits are exempt so his income is effectively zero.
          Now if only he would go and actually pay attention to what th dentist tells him about stopping with the fizzy pop already he might save his teeth...

          Me and his dad have had several years of neglect fixed since living here. In the US, we could only afford dentistry in an absolute emergency, i.e. and abcess or severe toothache. We've both lost teeth a a result. Our daughter who lives in the US needs loads of work and can't afford it :-(

          Political Compass says: -8.88, -8.67
          "We never sold out cos no one would buy."--J Neo Marvin

          by expatyank on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 04:38:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Walk-in-Centers (5+ / 0-)

    Part Doctors office, part ER-lite.

    A two hour wait time at peak hours in something even a little bit like an ER (or as they call them in England, Casualty Department)?

    I'll take it.

    In America, 60% of bankruptcies are because of medical bills, and 80% of those people had health insurance

    by sullivanst on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:49:32 PM PDT

  •  Wow (8+ / 0-)

    Okay, when I see diaries like this I get jealous and angry and usually start to cry.  

    I need major dental work right now because lymphoma, radiation and and an autoimmune disease have destroyed my teeth.   It costs thousands here in the US to get care.  My dentist wants 200 for a non-complicated extraction and 400 for a complicated one, same for cavities and I have no money right now.  I have to get a payment plan from them and have no choice because I am in so much pain.  Even if you have to look around or travel a bit in the UK to find a dentist it would be worth it.  I didn't stand in line for 8 hours at the RAM event in LA in August for kicks (and got turned away due to lack of volunteer dentists) I stood in line because health care in the US is so expensive.  

    I've applied for a passport and have every intention of immigrating to Canada, the UK or France in the very near future.  I want to be treated like patients are treated in other countries, where my health is first and my method of payment is inconsequential.  No longer would I have to burst into tears at my oncologists office when they say "if you want to see the doc that'll be $180.00."  

    I had cancer, I can't get insurance, if my cancer comes back? The Plan: Walk It Off!

    by ArtemisBSG on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 01:54:26 PM PDT

    •  I really feel for you. I had the same mix of (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Panda, Bernie68, Larsstephens

      emotions today. While I'm not going through anything like what you're going through, I had a few medical issues this year and have paid probably $2000 in doctor bills. I've paid something like $6000 -$7000 to Blue Cross, but it never kicks in. And then I've paid however many thousands of dollars in taxes. None of it overlaps, never.

      It's infuriating, it really is. No one should have to consider moving away from home in order to get healthcare. Though it's another debate,  I also would hope I wouldn't have to move away from my state to get healthcare, which might come up in an opt-out situation.

      I don't have anywhere near the problems that you do, so I can only imagine how you feel.  For some, these stories and debates seem abstract. For others they are all too real and vital. I know what this issue means to you, that it is not an "issue"  at all, but a matter of life and death, and I hope getting stories like this out there can at least inform people that the propaganda about universal healthcare plans is false.

      "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

      by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:03:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It would be cheaper for me (3+ / 0-)

    to fly to the land of my birth for treatment than to pay my deductibles and copays here. Because of the high cost here with my insurance company guess what I do? I just don't GO.  I suffer through whatever I have and hope it's not serious.
    Hey, all these "freedoms" Bush told us the world hated us for don't come cheap. We're free all right. Free to to die quickly and quietly.
    Every time I hear the GOP lies about the NHS I become almost homicidal. I lived there, I know what I'm NOT getting here.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and I hope you feel better soon.

    "She had to sell everything she owned and froze up inside..."

    by Panda on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:00:36 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, I know what you mean about feeling (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Panda, Larsstephens

      "almost homicidal." It really does bring up a rage that is the kind of rage you would feel for someone attacked your kids.  I guess because, at the end of the day, that's exactly what they're doing. It is infuriating.

      "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

      by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:05:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  bizarro world. I want to go there. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bernie68, Larsstephens

    Hey, I'm depraved on account of I'm deprived! Dear Officer Krupke..

    by bryker on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:11:55 PM PDT

  •  My friend had her baby in the UK and she said (4+ / 0-)

    it was a joy to have a baby there through the NHS. I don't have any details, but she thoroughly enjoyed her experience.

    Here in the US what do expectant mothers get? Middle-aged white men saying, "I don't need maternity care so why should it be part of a healthcare reform bill?"

    Makes you proud, don't it? ;-)

  •  2 hour wait in a walk in clinic? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I have had a 2 hour wait when i had an APPOINTMENT in this country...

    I was paid to post this comment by my cat, but he's a deadbeat.

    by decembersue on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:18:26 PM PDT

  •  Alien Invader! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, waydownsouth

     In America, they'd be freaking out over the idea of a non-citizen 'stealing' our health care.

    It really makes you wonder what's wrong with so many people in this country, who'll be damned before they'll let anyone be teated like a human being because it might cost them something. It also makes you wonder about the kind of politicians who have no trouble seeking power by stoking those fears.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:23:14 PM PDT

    •  Exactly. There was no question about my being a (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      xaxnar, Bernie68, jgilhousen, Larsstephens

      citizen or not. I was there, I was ill, I needed help.... I got help.  End of story.

      And, yes, the citizens of the UK paid for that through their taxes. And I wish like hell that I could return the favor...

      "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

      by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 02:36:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I read in a diary some weeks ago that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a US traveler (thought it was in England, may have been elsewhere, but almost sure it was England) also utilized their NHS system, and paid a modest fee for the service.  This diarist said that a prescription was printed out and that they could take it anywhere to have it filled for free.  Makes me think that the $15 you paid was for the doctor's visit, and the scrip was free perhaps?

    And, I have to ask, how many strange looks did you get going around and taking pictures of every sign/poster/pamphlet in the place?! LOL

    "Don't Bet Against Us" - President Barack Obama

    by MRA NY on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:22:41 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, that's why some are blurry! I didn't (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Larsstephens, MRA NY

      linger around taking too many pics!  If I'd actually felt well, I probably would have taken way more pictures, of the whole scenario, and explained what I was doing.  I think they would have been on board with that!  But I was feeling pretty crummy in general and almost gave up on the whole idea of trying to take pics and write the diary several times...

      About the prescription, it was the $15 charge, for sure.  It may be just that they had the drug there and if they hadn't they would have given me the scrip to take somewhere else.  Definitely no other charge, for what it's worth....

      All the best.

      "The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not...." -- Mahatma Gandhi

      by waydownsouth on Fri Oct 09, 2009 at 03:36:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for sharing your experience. (0+ / 0-)

    Tipped and recommended for
    you getting well soon.

    Bon Voyage.

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