Thursday, 5 June 2008

Doctors and post offices

To sign on with a GP here in the UK you have to have a physical so a few months after I had moved here I decided to go and get this process over since I did not want to have to go through any procedures should I actually be sick and just want to get better.

It was a straight forward process filled out paperwork met with the nurse practitioner who did the normal things and when she asked if I had any question I mentioned a bump I'd had for years but never remembered to ask about when I was in the doctors. She had look at it and informed me it was a cyst and to keep an eye on it but unless it changed shape it was quite harmless. She said to make an appointment with any of the nurses if I did notice that it had changed shape but not to worry. Off I trotted home happy in the knowledge that I had dealt with one small bit of the bureaucracy that is the NHS.

So our story seemed to come to a happy end until about a week ago in the shower. Whether I was imagining it or not it seemed to me that this cyst had changed shape. As I stood in the shower trying to decide if it had changed shape or it just seemed so because I had not been paying attention I finally decided just to ring the GP surgery and set up an appointment with one of the nurses to put my mind at ease.

A little information for those of you who may no understand how socialized medicine works in the UK. Each person pays a percentage of their wages similar to the percentage for Social Security to National Insurance the majority of this goes to fund the NHS although some of it is used for other programs similar to the welfare programs in the US. This then allows the general public to use the health care system. Are there problems? Yes. More problems or horror stories than anyone who has dealt with HMO or Managed health care? No. On the salary I am on I pay about £100 a month to NI and in return I get completely free health care although I do have to pay a whopping £6 for any prescription I fill. The £6 is waived for those under 16, over 60, or earning less than a certain amount. I happily hand over my £6 with the knowledge that I have never payed so little for a perception in my life.

Back to my nurses appointment. I called the number for my GP which is actually a number that transfers you to a number which makes you listen to 27 different options and choose one, once you have chosen an option it transfers you to a real human being who is actually less helpful than the voice that list all 27 options. So when I finally made it through to my non helpful human I very naively asked if any of the nurses had Saturday hours as I work Mon thru Friday 8:30-5:30. I was informed in a voice that meant to infer I must of slipped and banged my head as to be stupid enough to ask for a Saturday appointment that the GP surgery was closed on Saturdays. Okay no problem I said and asked if any of the nurses or doctors had late hours once a week or something. I was then informed that surgery hours were 9-5:30 Monday through Friday. I was so gob smacked that there was not at least one late night a week that without really thinking I said thank you like a young Dickinsonian child who has been told that since it was Christmas I would only have to work 16 hours today instead of 18 and hung up.

I was a little peeved but decided that my cyst probably was not that important and that I would just some how find time to make it to the doctor or maybe use one of the walk in clinics in London to ease my hypochondria.

As I walked into our flat later that evening I picked up the mail and noticed that there was a card from the postman saying there was a letter that we needed to sign for and that we could collect that letter from the post office over the next two weeks. As I made my way up the stars I thought to myself great now I have to run to the town center on Saturday to pick up this stupid letter because I am sure they keep 9-5 hours M-F. To my great delight when I flip the card over and read the opening times I found out that my local post office where the letter was being held was open from 6:30 am to 6:30pm M-F in addition to 8-4 on Saturday.

This got me thinking. I can pick up letters out of business hours, do banking out of business hours, get my hair cut, a manicure, grocery shop, heck at Liverpool Street Station in London I can get a Big Mac 24/7 but I can not get my cyst checked out unless I can do it M-F 9-5:30. I am not asking that I am able to go to the doctor until till 10pm 7 days a week but I would appreciate one late evening of appointments a week or maybe 2-4 hours on a Saturday morning. I can go to the bank until 3pm on a Saturday is it so much to have appointment from 9-12 at the GP's on a Saturday? Really I think not.

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

Heh... When I lived in England in 1992, I often would have to postpone meals if I was downtown because all of the restaurants were... wait for it... CLOSED FOR LUNCH!!! Which is to say, there's a certain inflexibility about business hours in the U.K.

In the 12 years between my year there and my most recent visit, it seemed that there was a massive change -- an "improvement," maybe -- in the way you get treated in shops and businesses. Maybe they've discovered the miracle of public service! Or maybe that it's that I stopped packing two inches of shaggy beard....