Friday, January 30, 2009

The NHS: Ultra Progressive or Third World Country-Like?

Finally, after almost a year here, I had my first 'real' interaction with the NHS today. The NHS is the UK's privatized health care system (National Health Service to be exact), and up until now, I had only been to my doctor's office twice: once to 'register' with them, and once to get travel meds for my trip to the Dominican in October. Now, I know many people could write reams on what is broken about the US system. I don't disagree with that-and that's not the point of my post. But, what happened today was certainly worth mentioning-at least in my book...

Long story short, I had to pop up to the local hospital today for an X-Ray, and then go have some blood drawn (Settle down-it's nothing major. Just some hip-joint pain, and my GP wants to rule out any type of bone problems...). this all worked today is both pretty cool-and alarmingly dated.

With my X-Ray referral in hand from my GP, all I had to do was go to the hospital (no x-ray capability in the doc's office..), with my form and they worked me in for the day. No appointment, no nothing. First come, first served. And, as I arrived there right when they opened up this morning, there was also no queue. I was in and out in 15 minutes; it took me longer to walk there and back then the actual appointment itself. Yea. That's the progressive part.

Here comes the scary part...

A few hours later, I went to my GPs office to have some blood drawn. How do I put this delicately?...I don't want to imply that the 'US IS BEST' by what I'm about to say, but it certainly can't be too far from the truth: My arm didn't get swabbed with anti-bacterial anything, and the lady who took the blood?...DIDN'T EVEN WEAR GLOVES!!!!

I was so taken aback, that I actually stopped her and asked: why aren't you cleaning my arm? In the US, I would get swabbed before getting stuck. Hint. Hint. Her reply was that, since she pokes my arm after swabbing (with her finger to find a vein), she continues to transfer germs (um. well, the gloves would certainly take care of that problem!!!), and she would also have to wait until the wetness dries to be effective-otherwise, it's just useless (and can actually sting a bit when putting the needle in you). Her words, not mine. I couldn't help but think: well then, WAIT. An extra minute won't kill *you*, and newsflash: I've got a needle going in my arm. I'll never be able to tell if the pain is from then needle or the antiseptic.

Wow. Now, I certainly can't comment as to whether or not my experience today with the phlebotomist is the NHS standard, or if it's simply her way of doing things. So, I'm trying not to indict the entire NHS for this one experience. But, after coming from a health system where, I wouldn't be surprised to see receptionists wearing surgical gloves at some point in the near future, it did at least make me take note of the experience.


  1. I remember asking my doc in the UK why he didn't wear gloves when he drew my blood, and he said wearing gloves actually made him much clumsier at doing it. (And yes, it was the doc himself, not a nurse.)

  2. I had the EXACT same experience. I'm from Canada and we always swab and wear gloves when taking blood. The UK system (such that it is) really freaks me out. I swear sometimes the people running the system don't even know what's going on.