“Europeans are too hard on the NHS”

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The British NHS system deserves praise, not scorn, says Meghan Fenn, American expat and author.

As an American mother living in the UK, I am thankful for the great British institution that is the National Health Service (NHS).

Over the past 10 years I have only had 1 bad experience worth speaking of. All 3 of my children were born in Britain and I find healthcare for families and young children generally very comprehensive and of a high standard.

Additionally, after experiencing medical care in both Prague (some very funny experiences there but too rude to post) and Tokyo, it is clear to me that the NHS, while not perfect, is an important plus point of living in the UK as a permanent resident raising a family.

Not everyone feels this way–least of all British nationals. I remember the first time I heard someone complaining about waiting lists and medical care and really slamming the NHS. I was shocked! I didn’t understand how anyone could fault a free national healthcare service.

Since then I have heard other stories of bad medical care, ops being postponed or cancelled and horror births where medical staff made mistakes. But couldn’t all this also happen in any other first world country with a similar healthcare system?

The beauty of the NHS is that although it may not always be terribly convenient and there is always potential for human error, we are not hit with huge medical bills. Nor do we need to take out expensive health insurance or turn down jobs because they don’t offer health benefits. We are not presented with itemized lists of tests and procedures adding up to a tidy sum we need a small loan to pay for. Of course we pay for the NHS in taxes, but let’s be honest, that’s better than paying a lump sum. It’s also one less insurance policy we have to manage (or even think about).

In fact, we don’t need to worry about cost at all. In sharp contrast, while my sister was in labour in the US deciding to have an epidural was not purely a birthing choice. She had a financial decision to make, too. In my point of view, we expats in Britain should be incredibly thankful for the NHS for not putting us in that position.

While doing research for my book, Bringing Up Brits, I came across different viewpoints from parents who are non-British. American, Canadian and other non-EU parents thought the same as I did. But mainland European parents had a different perspective. They said that compared to their home countries their experiences had been negative. They found the NHS to be consistently unfair–that wait times were long and cancellations too frequent.

They also complained NHS staff were non-sympathetic and at times outright rude. I was so surprised to learn that something I found to be a bonus to living in Britain could be considered a downside! For these parents raising families in Britain, the NHS is an inferior healthcare system and a negative aspect of living in the UK.

I still feel no matter what country you are from, if you have children in Britain the positives of the NHS surely outweigh any negatives. To name a few: you automatically get a midwife for free, your pre-natal care is free, your post-natal care is free, birth is free. Plus you get free meds for children under 16, as well as free dental care during pregnancy and for a year after your child is born .

A Canadian mother I know who is frequently taking her child to the hospital for treatments and play therapy told me that they’ve always had very good care and service with the NHS. They are booked in quickly for emergency appointments, they get free medication for their child and they have a fantastic support team they can call to get immediate advice and/or appointments.

Best of all they don’t pay anything. They don’t even have to think about the financial side of things, which means they can focus on their child, comforting and caring for her without the horrendous stress of wondering how they’re going to pay for it all.

I can’t really find fault with that. Can you?

Meghan Peterson Fenn is the author of Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain. http://www.bringingupbrits.co.uk

Glyn Winchester says:

Since I have discovered your blog due to having recently broken my leg, in the first of six weeks of being non-weight bearing, thus lot’s of internet browsing in between book reading –I will reply to your article! Thank goodness for the NHS! Three births–excellent health care from the get-go. My GPs are marvelous and have supported me throughout the years with all the common ailments. My recent crisis, due to over zealous Roller Derby training, resulting in my ankle needing to be screwed together and my fibula plated, is my first experience with broken bones and the second experience of an operation after an emergency C-section eighteen years ago. My care was excellent. The food was rather tasty too, I must say!

I was however, dismayed with how overworked and under staffed the Trauma ward was. The entire staff are caring, concientious professionals who seem to be inundated with way too much paper work and not enough patient time. This is not their fault. This is a wake up call for me about the changes rapidly occurring in the NHS. My friend, a nurse, said that the best thing I can do is to write to the hospital management telling them what I experienced and witnessed. I will also write to our local Conservative MP and hope her humanity will allow her to listen to what I have to say. Perhaps I will hobble in to see her in her constituency office with my bright pink cast and hand her the letter. The Government say they are “listening” but I am very dubious.

My brother, living in the USA, a homeless person, was diagnosed at the beginning of January with lung cancer. He certainly had no health insurance. By the time of his death in March, his reams of medical bills added up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. He fought continuously and found limited “charity” healthcare, which I wasn’t aware of and quite amzed to know about. In his dire circumstances he was incredibly lucky to be accepted into a hospice who helped ease his pain in his last two weeks of life–but that was the luck of the draw for him, a gambler; wonder if he realized he had won that deal?

We living in Great Britain have our healthcare, guaranteed, which we do pay for in taxes. It is not a gamble but a right. It is a right that we need to not take for granted, but to keep an eye on. A right that may be threatened and that we all may need to fight for in order to keep it going strong and advancing for the good of our society.