I have two sons, one is called Sebastian and the other Rafa.
The eldest, Sebastian, was recently caught in a nasty accident and narrowly avoided having at least one finger amputated. The emergency workers, nurses, doctors, anaesthetists and surgeons were incredible throughout and it’s thanks to them that he’s back to normal today.
I’ve witnessed emergency care in developing countries like Angola, as well as developed countries like Belgium, and based on my experience with Sebastian, I’d put the UK at the top in terms of patient care, professionalism, hygiene and efficiency.
Alas, for Rafa the story is not so straightforward. I chose to give birth to Rafa in the UK rather than Belgium so as to be closer to my family. While Rafa is healthy now, I still wonder if I made the wrong decision. It’s a long story but Rafa was born with multiple, minor complications that were not picked up by overworked, undertrained or let’s be honest, downright lazy staff.
Herein lies the fundamental truth of the British National Health System.
It’s a postcode lottery. Sebastian’s treatment did not take place in the same hospital as Rafa’s. Sebastian was attended to by some of the best surgeons in the world. Rafa was, for the most part, pushed aside by staff who didn’t know or didn’t care.
It’s based on acute need. Sebastian needed emergency surgery, Rafa had a complicated mix of symptoms which required ongoing consultation. Sebastian jumped the queue, Rafa never made it onto the list.
It’s fair and yet so unfair. Doctors will treat patients based on symptoms, on staff available, but never on the colour of the medical insurance card. However, when your two month old is poorly and is denied proper care until his first birthday, it seems so horribly unfair.
So you’ve got private medical insurance, you say? The above doesn’t apply to you? Think again.
It’s not always as straightforward as going private to ensure the best quality of care. Both my sons were privately insured at the time of their incidents, but it made no difference. Health care in the UK is complicated and private clinics are not always available, or as good as the state equivalents. This is especially true in rural parts of the UK.
Opt out of the NHS and it’s not always possible to opt back in. Many doctors dedicate themselves to the NHS, work extended hours for no extra pay and are understandably protective of it. Why should a posh girl who’s lived abroad so long she no longer has a local accent skip to the front? Could a phrase like ‘Look, I’m desperate, I’d prefer to go private please’ push you to the back of the queue, I wonder? And it’s at that moment that you realise that there is no private option.
I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I’m eternally grateful to the doctors who helped both of my sons, who are now happy and healthy. It’s also right that the most poorly children are prioritised. However caring for seriously sick children shouldn’t mean ignoring the less poorly ones. With or without private insurance, I’m sure Sebastian and Rafa would agree.