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28 March 2014

Adventures in Socialized Medicine: NHS Signup ● by Jess

As an American that has never been without health insurance, the idea of using the NHS (National Health Service- aka UK's socialized medicine system) has been... daunting. And I'll tell you what, it has already been an adventure. 

About a month ago, I called to make an appointment with my General Practioner. London is like NYC, where you don't actually go to hospital, instead, you go to one of several smaller doctors offices around the city. 

I was turned down from the first three-- relatively highly ranked-- places as they were not in my zip code (though technically closer to where I live). I had to settle for a very sexy 2 out of 5 star medical center a ways up the road. 

My first appointment was actually an appointment to make an ACTUAL appointment…or "pre-appointment" and even that was two weeks away!

When I get to my pre-doctor meeting, I was given a small form by a group of very grumpy secretaries and told to go to the end of the hall, down the stairs and sit. This is what that sitting area looked like:

My view coming down the stairs. The sitting room is just a stairwell with no one else there. 
My view from my chair-- an excellent assortment of random bits of stuff carefully crammed behind the stairway.
Eventually someone came for me and the actual signup process was incredibly thorough-- much more so than any I'd had in the US. The lady that helped me was so nice and chatty. I walked away thinking… 'this NHS stuff is actually pretty awesome!' So, we booked my next appointment.

This morning (two weeks after my pre-appointment) I go to my first official doctor's visit and, after a half hour of waiting, they call my name.

I'm ushered back into a room with a female doctor. I sit down, and-- without any pleasantries-- she asks, "So, why are you here?" emphasizing the word "here" as though she were posing the question existentially. 

My brain went blank for a moment. Its not that I need my GP to wine and dine me, but c'mon sister! Give me a "hello" at least! Finally, I fumbled out my reasons for coming. 

What followed was like a Gilmore GIrls meets a Law and Order interrogation-- a rapid fire of probing questions that come so fast you barely have time to process the loss of dignity. 

In the end she handed me a slip so I could get a blood test and said that she planned to refer me to a specialist for one of my other concerns. I asked if there was anything else she needed to give me, she said no, and I left. 

The meeting lasted less than four minutes. 

Shell-shocked, I went back to my favorite group of secretaries-- all of which I'm certain have some sort of medical instrument deftly lodged up their nether regions. 

True to form, when I got to the front of the line, my secretary looked at me irritably as I gave her my blood test slip. I told her that I was fasting, so I'd like to take the blood test today. 

"You have to schedule an appointment."

"Really? The doctor said I should be able to do it today."

"You have to schedule an appointment."

"Ok… when is the next available date?"

"… April 4th, 9am."

"Ok… great. Also, the doctor said she was going to refer me to a specialist, will that information be in my file?"

"Um, I don't know."

"… ok, is it there now? She was typing information in the computer when I left the room…"

"That's something you'll just have to figure out when you come back on April 4th."

"Are you serious? You can't just look right now?"

"Ma'am there is a long line behind you and I'd like to get to everyone. You can ask the secretary when you come back for your blood test on April 4th."


So, all in all, I'd say it was a mixed bag of good and bad.

The best part: I don't have to worry about deductibles or co-payments.

The worst part: (besides the secretaries from Hell) It takes so long to get anything figured out. A month + two appointments later and no one has told anything new about my health. 

Stay tuned for more adventures soon...

Also, if you are in need of a little good Karma, we're trying to get our blog seen by the expat community here in London. So, if you have a second, just hop over to ExpatsBlog and write a positive comment at the bottom of the page, it would be so helpful :) Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jess and Jon,

    I found your blog and I thought you may be interested in the show I work on ‘House Hunters International’?! I’m not sure how long you have been in London but we are looking for English speaking expats who have moved to the UK within the last year or so and would like to share their story.

    As you may know, House Hunters International is a half-hour TV show currently airing on the Home and Garden Television Network (HGTV) in America. The series is designed to de-mystify the international home-buying / renting process, by going behind the scenes of a house hunt where expats and their real estate agents tour 3 homes. At its core, House Hunters International is a travel show concentrating on the idiosyncrasies of the locales and what makes them special and different.

    Here are some links to show you what our show is all about!

    Here are some examples of the show that you can watch on Youtube: - Charlottenlund Denmark - Athens Greece - Marrakech Morocco

    We would love to film in London again, so please do get in touch if you might be interested in sharing your story.

    Best wishes,


    Michelle James
    1-3 St Peter's Street, London N1 8JD - +44 20 7704 3300