Tuesday, 16 November 2010

NHS/US Healthcare – If you are going to fall off your horse….

….may I suggest you do it in the UK?

I have just returned from another great trip to the US, this time, New York. The trip was mainly business but I always find time for pleasure in the city that never sleeps.

Since starting this blog my brain is now finely tuned to looking out for healthcare stories and I didn’t have to look far while I was away. One of my friends from New Jersey was telling me about her nasty riding accident a few weeks ago. The horse reared and after throwing her then landed on her. The accident sounded horrific and as she lay stunned on the ground, her husband was frantically organising the emergency services and potentially an air ambulance.

I asked my friend what was going through her mind at that time as she was contemplating the possibility of a serious spinal injury. ‘Well – I could wiggle my toes and move my hands, so my first thought was to tell my husband to cancel the air ambulance as I could imagine what a pain that would be, negotiating with my health insurance company’

For someone who can bathe in the comfort of free healthcare, this is really quite a shocking story. In the UK, I suspect that for most of us, our first thought following accident, illness or injury, is ‘where shall I go for care and how will I get there?’ Invariably that will be a trip to the emergency room or a referral to an NHS hospital. Either way – ‘how can I pay and will I get the urgent care I need?’ tends not to be an issue.

Whatever anyone may say to criticise the NHS, if you are unconscious, bleeding badly, are suffering a suspected heart attack or acute neurological disorder, in the UK, you know that urgent care is there for you. No need for discussions with your insurance agent, lawyer, third party provider. No financial questions asked in that ambulance.

There are many of us in the UK who follow the journalist Melanie Reid’s inspirational weekly column in The Saturday Times Magazine. Earlier this year, Melanie was air-lifted to a specialist spinal unit after suffering  serious spinal injuries in a riding accident and in her column, she documents her weekly struggle as she progresses to regain strength and mobility.

I am glad that for patients like Melanie, as they work so hard with their rehabilitation, at least one thing they don’t have to worry about is ‘can I afford this care?’


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