Recently I’ve come into closer contact than I’d have preferred with health care provision in Greece. Thankfully I’m not ill but my shoulder is frozen. Previously it was one of those things that I imagined only other people got and I had no interest in it and it probably wasn’t a big deal anyway. The closest I’d come to it before was when my builder couldn’t finish the tiling in my kitchen because of this and my outrage knew no bounds. After I finish this I might drop him a note written in blood expressing my remorse. My doctor advises me helpfully that it’s something I can expect ‘at my age’ and so I find myself on a downward slide looking forward to stops at piles, varicose veins, hernias, arthritis, lumbago and hope that my final destination passes quickly through Alzheimers.
I consider myself to be very fortunate having grown up in a country that provides health care that’s free at the point of use for everyone who needs it. Although there may be discrepancies in how the budget is carved up depending on area and resulting in the so-called postcode lottery for some conditions there is not, as yet, a rush to look at your bank account rather than your vital signs if you’re blue-lighted into an A&E unit. People in the UK aren’t forced to choose between paying rent/buying food or paying for a visit to the doctor and long may that continue. I find it incomprehensible, to say nothing of barbaric, that there are still people who believe that it’s perfectly reasonable to keep good health only for those who can afford it.
My memory of the NHS is that it works fairly albeit working at a slightly paternalistic level; doctor knew best and you took what you were given. Frankly, I have no problem with that because the one time in my life when I was seriously ill I wanted the doctor to know best and had no interest in discussing anything other than: how quickly is this going to work? When I talk to Americans, depending on their political persuasion, they see the NHS as being either a God-given opportunity for hypochondriacs to spend their lives being tested for rare syndromes, or a warehouse filled with discarded prosthetic limbs and outdated drugs where we scavenge for what we can. Evidently it’s all free and costs nothing because we Brits are only one step away from Communism. When I talk about National Insurance Schemes and Taxes a hunted look runs across their face as they wonder if I’m channelling the spirit of Stalin.
I still don’t understand the health system here and I probably never will but some of what I do know is that bribery is rife, many hospitals have no basic supplies such as gloves and antiseptic and nursing care is rare. If you’re an in-patient then you need your family or friends to come and help. Fortunately I have insurance and can join in with those people who don’t have to queue. I say fortunately but as yet I have received nothing other than a co-payment for the x-ray I needed. Drugs aren’t part of the plan unless they’re administered in hospital. There’s a cut-off limit for the amount they’ll pay for a GP visit which is less than most GPs charge for a consultation. There’s no cover for pre-existing conditions and there’s a whacking great excess to pay before they start to pay. They don’t pay for any ‘check ups’ unless it’s prescribed by a GP. This means that mammograms and smear tests aren’t covered routinely and neither are they covered in the state system. But, hey, it’s privately insured healthcare and it’s great because it’s not some scummy, Communist plot to keep the poor people healthy.