Going to the NHS is A Lot Like Going to Kaiser
If you’re at all curious about the NHS experience, I can tell you now: it’s not unlike the Kaiser Permanente experience.
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking the most obvious difference is that NHS is “free” and Kaiser involves deductions from your wages, co-pays and money for prescriptions. Well, I can also tell you this: NHS is not free. Pay taxes in the UK, close to 40% of your wages, and you won’t be calling it “free” any longer. You’ll instead say, “Um, yeah! Better be givin’ us healthcare!”
I must admit my viewpoint probably isn’t the average of most people needing to go to the doctor: I’m a healthy, childless female with no other reason for visiting the doctor besides check-ups and women’s examinations, which, if I’m honest, means I only visit the doctor’s office once per year, if that.
So I cannot speak for the countless people who are chronically ill, have ailments or need to bring in their children for vaccines, etc. I also don’t need specialised medicine and I’ve never needed serious medical attention. All of those elements may, of course, give you an NHS experience that does not compare to Kaiser.
But I went to the NHS centre/office today and this is how it went:
- Called Monday afternoon asking for an appointment to get a refill on my contraceptive. The receptionist was apologetic that the earliest I could come in was Wednesday at lunch. That was less than 48-hours away. I don’t know why she was sorry. I told her that was perfect and she booked me in. 1 point NHS.
- Since you are required to go to a GP in the area where you live, my NHS centre is only a few bus stops away. I could actually walk if I wanted to, but there is a stretch of road along the way that isn’t very pedestrian friendly. I hoped on the bus at 1pm for my 1:30pm appointment, and was walking through the doors at 1:05pm. 1 point NHS
- The waiting room was nearly empty, save for one pregnant young woman and her partner. This was a first, as the previous times I’ve been here to register, it’s been pretty full. I think it must be less busy in the afternoon. Something to keep in mind. 0 points as I’m not convinced this is the norm.
- I checked in with reception (no line, but again, this was a first) and took a seat. I glanced at my phone to check the time and it was 1:07pm. I told myself not to expect to be seen early.
- This particular NHS/GP office is considered large and has about six or seven doctors practicing there. They have a digital marquee mounted to the ceiling that beeps and displays when the next patient is ready to be seen. Very cold and impersonal, if you ask me. No smiling nurse coming out and calling your name. It was at about 1:20pm when the marquee beeped. I looked up and my name was displayed across, telling me to report to room 9. 1 point Kaiser, for having nice nurses.
- The receptionist buzzed me through the door and I followed the signs to room 9. The door was closed, so I knocked. A man’s voice asked me to come in. We said hello and he immediately asked me what he could do for me. I told him I needed a refill and I handed him the box from my previous prescription. He seemed very uninterested but asked me if I smoked (no), if I had children (no) and what I did for work (well, uh…). He then asked me to remove my jacket so he could take my blood pressure, and asked me to sit back and relax. He typed some stuff into his computer while I sat having my blood pressure read. 1 point Kaiser, for having more caring doctors.
- I looked around the room and noticed a sign posted on the door that said: “All appointments are 10 minutes. If you require longer than 10 minutes, please be sure to book a double appointment.” Just like Kaiser!, I thought to myself. I looked around the rest of the exam room and noticed a torn paper towel on the floor, as well as a couple torn open packets on the floor. I also noticed the paper that gets pulled over the examination table hadn’t been changed. Hmm. 1 point Kaiser, for being clean!
- The blood pressure machine stopped, deflated and the doctor asked me to remove the strap from my arm. Like, do it myself. Worse than Kaiser!, I thought. 1 point Kaiser. I mean, really.
- We sat there silently as he continued typing. He printed out my prescription slip and handed it to me. “Have a good day,” he said, then looked back at his screen. “So I can take this to the pharmacy outside?” I asked. “Yes.” he replied. Draw. No points here.
And that was it. Fast, impersonal and definitely less than my 10 minute allotment. It was 4 minutes max. Barely longer than the time it takes to take a blood pressure reading.
I went to the Pharmacy next door and handed in my slip. My prescription was free because according to the NHS website, presribed contraceptives are supplied free of charge.
Typically prescriptions, regardless of what it is, cost a flat amount of £7.20. Both instances are definitely better than Kaiser. 1 point NHS. Make that 5 points NHS, actually. Free or low-cost (truly low-cost) medication is essential.
Now, there was nothing about this NHS experience to recommend it, but I’ve had nearly identical experiences with Kaiser doctors where they barely say a word to me and even leave the room without saying anything. The cleanliness issue is another matter. I think that is highly dependent on the doctor you see. But, there you have it. According to my accurate points-system, I think NHS wins, but to be honest, NHS isn’t any better or worse that what you probably already know.
I hear NHS dentistry is a COMPLETELY different story however. I may experiment with that sometime.
Actually, no. No, I won’t. The proof is in the pudding for that one.