There seems to be a fair bit of dissatisfaction with the NHS in the UK, but after having had some experience with it firsthand, I think the complainers just haven’t ever had to deal with the alternative: the hopelessly broken for-profit health insurance and healthcare system we have in the States.
Granted, I haven’t had to go to hospital for anything (yet), so my experience was limited to registering and visiting my local surgery, but even that was far less painful than anything I’ve ever had to endure before.
Step one was finding the local surgery, which is quite easy. In England, you use this website; in Scotland, it’s this one. Just pop in your postcode and find whatever you want–doctors, dentists, hospitals, etc. I just picked the closest surgery to me, though I was a bit nervous when I saw the size of their coverage area–it had to be about a quarter of the city. I imagined a packed waiting room where I’d have to sit for hours. Nonetheless, I phoned them up and told them I wanted to register. They told me to swing by sometime and they’d get me sorted.
Swing by I did, and I was handed some basic paperwork to fill out. Once that was done, the girl behind the counter put my info into the computer and set up a sort of “getting to know you” appointment with one of the nurses. I needed to get a refill for my birth control pills as well, which meant seeing one of the doctors, so I made an appointment for that too–both appointments were within a week, and the place and its staff were pleasant. Not a bad start.
I returned for the appointment with the doctor and had to wait–get this–TEN WHOLE MINUTES before my appointment. And when I went back, I went right to the doctor, I didn’t get bunged into a room to wait for ages and ages on some cold, paper-covered table. The doctor was incredibly apologetic about the wait–apparently they’d had a lot of emergencies that morning. I was astonished I’d had so little wait. I was accustomed to being made to sit around for at least 30 minutes at the doctor’s office, even with an appointment. The last time I visited the doctor, I was there for more than 90 minutes, and I’d had to fast beforehand. I hated that doctor after that.
This doctor was very friendly, asked me a couple of questions, wrote me a prescription, and sent me on my way. No copay, no waits. I was in and out of there in under half an hour. Oh, and the prescription? 100% free. And that was for the brand-name pills, too. Apparently all birth control is free over here.
I was back there later in the week for my appointment with the nurse. Once again, I waited mere minutes before being taken back. She was a little brusque, but I didn’t mind. I don’t necessarily need to be best pals with the person taking my blood pressure, if it means I can get out of there and get on with my day more quickly. She took my vitals and once again I was out of there in under 30 minutes. No cost.
This is a revelation to me. In the States, I lived in a constant state of anxiety, even when I had good insurance, paranoid that something might happen and the insurance company might leave me holding the bag. When you think of all the ways they can screw you over, it gets pretty terrifying. My last month, I had no insurance whatsoever. Imagine my paranoia. If I’d so much as tripped on the stairs and broken my arm, where would I have ended up? How many thousands of dollars in debt would I have been? Everyone who bitches about the NHS over here needs to live like that for a little while. I can guarantee they’ll realize how good they had it pretty damn fast. I know I sure appreciate it.