After three years in the UK, I needed to use the National Health System. I’ve got a really bad lower back pain after lifting my motorbike to put it in a van. The reason why I did that is another story, but it was stupid and the damage is done.
So, in the beginning, I just innocently thought it will go away after a few days, because I thought I was young and strong but this illusion faded away completely when I saw myself in the mirror and realised I couldn’t even stand straight.
All the muscles in my back went to spasm to protect me from snapping in two, it seems.
And so let the NHS saga begin.
I decided since at least 25% of my hard earned money is taken by the taxman every month, to make use of my “right to health”. For three years, I wasn’t registered with the NHS -my fault, as I said I was young and strong- so the first thing I had to do was to find a local General Practitioner or else GP. But before this, I had to deal with the excruciating pain, so I decided to drive myself to an urgent care centre.
Now, this was the first part of my Odyssey.
Part I – Getting Rejected from Urgent Care Centres
After I arrived there, gave my info to the reception, I had to sit down and wait. Luckily, it was a Sunday, so there were no bogus patients just escaping from work. I may be misjudging things here, but it struck me that many people in the urgent care centre weren’t exactly in need of “urgent care”, unless a running nose qualifies for this purpose.
Anyway, the wait was over, I got called in just to receive some free painkillers and to hear the words: “we can’t deal with you, we deal with accidents here”. So, if I faked an accident or even worse abused the system by calling an ambulance to pick me up, probably they would look after me, but in my case, the case of an honest and considering patient there was nothing in store for me. The female doctor, or to put it straight “the female Hispanic descent doctor-bot” kept on repeating in broken English she cannot send me for an MRI or an X-Ray because my pain started 2 weeks ago. Or else, “computer says no”.
But you see, I don’t blame her. It seems that the NHS has grown into a big bureaucratic monster that needs to have so many risk and responsibility management tactics, that forgets the sole reason it was created: “to cure”.
And so I asked her, if I had lied about it, would you be able to do it? And the answer of course was something of the type I can’t answer these sort of questions sir.
What I had to do was to register with a GP and he would be the one to refer me for an emergency MRI or an X-Ray.
After kindly and mildly expressing my frustration and explaining that this didn’t make any sense, I left.
Part II – Failings of Finding a GP
You see, I live in Ealing. I pay council tax to Ealing, the “queen of the suburbs“.
But, I have got an NW10 post code and this is an exception for Ealing. Because the NW10 post code mainly belongs to Brent, as I am near the border of Ealing. But my problem isn’t that my address may not look very fancy. My problem is that the GPs in Ealing won’t see me because I am not in their catchment area and GPs in Brent tell me to try my luck with the GPs in Ealing.
There is no method of knowing beforehand whether a GP or surgery will accept you, as there is no online database of GPs and surgeries containing their catchment areas. The NHS website provided to show you the nearest ones does not guarantee that they will accept you.
I was not aware of this, so I innocently drove there and got rejected. So your best bet is to start calling them and politely asking whether they will accept you, then trying to explain that nobody wants to accept you and hoping that somebody will eventually.
And this is what happened. I walked in a surgery after seeing that they include the NW10 post code and although their catchment area map didn’t have my address in it -what a surprise!- they did agree to register me.
Part III – You thought a GP could save you…
After I registered with a GP, they arranged an emergency appointment with him for the same day. For a moment, I thought that maybe I was in the wrong for not following the correct procedure all this time.
So I did attend the appointment. It was a bit comical. The doctor was sitting on his chair in front of the computer, as I was describing to him my situation. I explained to him that I wanted to make sure it is something muscular and my spine and discs are in place so I wanted him to refer me for an emergency MRI and X-Ray.
After listening very careful, he reassured me that a lot of people have the same problem with me, it will go away in approximately six weeks. He explained to me that he cannot refer me for an emergency MRI but he would refer me to a physiotherapist and then the physiotherapist would be the one to judge whether I needed one.
So, he prescribed me industrial strength opioid painkillers along with anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants (Diazepam – Valium). He instructed me to call the physio after two working days, as this is the time needed in order for my details to be passed to the physiotherapist (!!!) and so I did.
The call was comical. The lady told me she had an appointment for the fourth of June, when it was the tenth of May. I explained to them that in order to get out of bed I am taking a cocktail of pills that I can’t be taking for a long time otherwise I would need a liver and kidney transplant, or maybe my back would just snap before that.
She sympathised with me and the fourth of June magically turned to -make a wild guess- the first of June!
I couldn’t help but giggle a bit. Then the woman explained to me that a lot of people book appointments that they never show up to, etc. Pretty standard when something is completely “free”, people tend to abuse it.
Part IV – You said physiotherapist?
The first of June came and I was on my way for my appointment. I went to the hospital and followed the signs for the orthopaedic section. There, I showed my appointment and they told me it was the physiotherapy section I was looking after. I asked them for directions and after locating the physiotherapy section that was hidden in a corner of the hospital, I was called in within minutes.
At first I explained to the doctor in detail what happened, when it happened, what I think it is, what my worries are and asked whether she could refer me for an MRI or X-Ray. Then she briefly examined my back, saw the problems and noted them down. But as you can imagine, she told me that she cannot refer me for that because I needed to do physio first and see whether I get better.
So, innocently I asked “What if I’ve got a slipped disc on my spine? I haven’t got the right to know?” She apologetically replied that there might be a problem with a disc, but her directions -and orders probably- were that in order to refer somebody for “advanced physio” some needs to do physio first.
And I said, “OK then, when do we start?”. Then again apologetically replied that the first appointment is one month away. I could help myself but laughed. She completely understood but she didn’t seem able to do anything else.
So another month in pain without knowing if there is something serious with my back. In the meantime I started swimming (I was in a swimming and also water polo team when I was younger, for me it is the best exercise there is) and also desperately trying to find out whether I can do an MRI and an X-Ray in Greece, in about 15 days.
Part V – Conclusion & Thoughts
I don’t exactly know how this story will continue, but this is completely ridiculous. As a taxpayer, I am punished because I am being honest and I am not abusing the system by calling an ambulance and claiming I can’t walk or anything like that. Probably a lot of people with my condition have abused the system in order to get something out of it. Because there is no way, somebody that has a job that includes manual labour to be able to carry on with his life like this.
This is where I start thinking whether the NHS has grown into a huge bureaucratic monster, characterised by inability, inefficiency and needs to start using a “divide and conquer approach”.
Maybe privatisation IS the way this can work. Or at least you have the option to choose between public and private healthcare. Because paying for something every month and not being able to demand an MRI or an X-Ray does not really make any sense. It just doesn’t.
Many of you will have thoughts like “Look what happened in America” and all that. I am not saying that privatisation is the only solution. And I am not saying that Britain should copy America’s health system model.
Maybe the solution lies in the middle ground of completely public and completely private. Or maybe it can remain completely public but for sure it needs to be completely restructured.
I love to hate Greece for many things, but this is an area that even in an austerity hit and poorer country works a lot better. It has got a lot of problems, like most things in Greece, but it does work and Greek doctors are a lot better that the ones in Britain. It is not only me who say this, look how many Greek doctors are famous in America and leaders in their fields.
This fact, for the 6th biggest economy in the world, is ashaming.
But let us not get very comfortable about the Greek system either. There was a time where many people went for an MRI with bogus prescriptions because their finger was hurting.
So now, understandably, with an economy in shambles, the Greek state is trying to control the health expenses in a better way. Unfortunately, this caught me, so I had to pay 150 euros for my MRI.
I can’t complain much though, because this is almost free compared to prices in London. So, after almost a month and a half, here you can see my spine:
The main problem seems to be the herniated disc between the L3 – L4, pressing the nerve and giving me terrible sciatica. Some may claim that I didn’t need an MRI as the problem does not look THAT serious but it is only a small step from that. Now the pain is reduced and I am trying to minimise the consumption of my opioid painkillers.
Some days though, I really want to saw my left leg off. Chronic pain is a hard thing to live with. It is very tiring, consumes your energy and makes you really grumpy. Combined with the fact that I generally am grumpy, I am in the brink of becoming a sociopath.
I am doing the conservative treatment now that I know that my spine looks like a 50 year old builder’s one. I need to lose some weight (every little helps) and apart from that I swim at least 1km a day in the swimming pool.
This is the best thing you can do if you are in this condition. And you have to do it religiously. It can get boring, but it is the only thing that truly works and you don’t have to be in a diet to lose weight, trust me.
Lifting any kind of weight is a no-no and it is funny because I am used to lifting heavy stuff in my life. But, after all, maybe that’s why I got in this condition after all. From now on, I have to listen to my body and accept the fact that I am not 16 any more.
Part VI – Lessons Learnt
I’ve worked very hard in rough jobs as a teen, so probably the problem started from there. You can’t always avoid that, but always try to lift things with your legs, even if the weight doesn’t seem a big deal.
The most fatal mistake was the fact that I was exercising a lot every day until my startup lifestyle put me in a chair for 14 hours a day whilst eating things that certainly weren’t good for my health. Everything comes at a cost it seems.
But there is no excuse in not freeing one hour a day to exercise. Only laziness. Talking from experience, you are more productive if you exercise every day. I decided that I won’t compromise with anything that needs this to be put aside again.