Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A stay in hospital and our wonderful NHS

During my recent 5 day incarceration in the Hoi An Pacific Hospital, I had plenty of time to lie back and think about the unfairness of life. Not the unfairness of getting Dengue - that's just bad luck and having mega-delicious blood, but the unfairness of having vs. not having.

There was me, with my VSO medical insurance, in the 'International Department'. A big clean room to myself, with a spare bed, a private bathroom and the biggest TV I've seen in Viet Nam, a phone line direct to a nurse, and daily visits from the doctor.  And then just down the corridor, in the 'normal' wards, were people 2 or 3 to a bed, with no mattress or sheets, who were lucky to see a nurse once a day, never mind a doctor. 

This is what's unfair. Simply because of where I was born, and to whom, and because (via insurance) I have dollars, I have such different treatment when I'm sick. 

We're all essentially the same. We're all people, we're all vulnerable, and we should all have the same access to healthcare irrespective of race, colour or money.

Here in Viet Nam, there is both Government and private healthcare provision, but you have to pay for either, and there's generally little difference in cost or service. There are private health insurance schemes, and there are some Government subsidies - children under 6 don't pay for basic healthcare, and the very poor, disabled, war veterans and poor elderly get some reduced rates.

My interpreter's father is very sick with a cardiac condition, and after two weeks in the local hospital he's had to go back home as they can't afford for him to be there any longer. When you're in hospital there is no personal care, and no food or drink are provided. So if you're sick, a member of your family has to stay in the hospital with you to take care of things. Another family wage lost....

People often don't buy the medicines they are prescribed, or they reduce the dosage - I regularly see children with epilepsy who have fits several times a day because their parents cut their tablets in half or quarter. They just can't afford to buy more.

If someone needs a wheelchair, they have to buy one, or try to find an organisation (Vietnamese or foreign) to buy one for them. Often their family will just carry them.

This picture is of the children's ward at the local hospital. It's unbearably hot. All these people are sleeping and eating in this room.

Whilst half-shielding painful eyes from the glow of the laptop, I watched Michael Moore's 'Sicko' - and was completely astounded by the money-grabbing and lack of humanity in the US healthcare / insurance system, where if you don't have (or can't get) insurance, or if your insurance can wriggle out of it, and you don't have money, you just don't get help when you're sick. Or you go bankrupt trying.  

My experiences here are reconfirming my absolute belief in, and admiration of the UK's National Health Service. Although at times it's a rumbling, inefficient, hulking lump of an organisation - it's free healthcare for everyone. All we ever hear in the media about the NHS is the problems. The wasted money. The doctors who mess up. The beaurocracy. The waits. The IT systems. The constant re-structuring. The rising costs. And these things do need sorting out.

BUT... if you get sick in the UK, you'll be looked after. If you need drugs, sure there's a prescription charge, but it's tiny compared to the cost of the medication. If you need an operation, okay you might wait a while, but it'll be free, and you'll stay in a relatively clean (compared to other places in the world) hospital, for as long as you need to, with food and care and therapy at no cost. If you need follow up medical care at home, that's free too. If you need therapy, that's free. X-rays, CT scans, blood tests, examinations, biopsies, MRIs.... all free. If you need orthotics, or a wheelchair, or a hospital bed at home, they're free.

These things aren't deemed newsworthy. But they're incredible, and we should treasure and celebrate our NHS, despite it's faults.

1 comment:

  1. Luce, my girlfriend has also recently been incarcerated in the international section of Pacific Hospital, and our cheap travel insurance is being difficult about the $2,500 bill, as they believe it is a private hospital, rather than public. Did your insurance pay up for your treatment? Was it difficult to sort? Would really appreciate it if you could help us with a little info on your experience, as we're fretting quite a lot now! My email is thank you for helping. Regards, Dan and Anna