Heather's Monthly Articles

Britain's National Health Service (NHS)

February 2018

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NHS nurse

A recent unexpected trip to the UK to visit my hospitalized mother happened to coincide with Donald Trump making headlines in the British tabloids for his comments on the British National Health Service. I guess he didn’t realize that the only people allowed to complain about the NHS are the Brits, who although they love a good grumble, will defend their healthcare system to the hilt. Based on my experience of spending several hours a day for a week as a visitor in an NHS hospital, I can well see why.

Entering a British hospital is akin to entering a crowded mall. It’s always rush hour. Members of the public coming and going either to receive treatment, or on their way home after being treated, or wandering the labyrinth of corridors seeking out their bedridden loved ones. No comfy couches in the lobby with magazines for people to peruse as they wait to be called up to the glass fronted administrator’s window in order to present their medical insurance information. In fact, no administrators to be seen at all. And the only money I saw changing hands was in the small grocery shop, tucked into a corner of the lobby, where you could purchase sweets, newspapers and a cup of tea. Or in the cafeteria, where you queued up alongside the medical staff. The varied menu changed daily and included some of my favorite British food items; a Sunday roast, vegetable marsala, sausages and chips, chips and more chips.

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NHS hospital room

The hustle and bustle continues on the wards, which are divided into "bays" with half a dozen beds in each. Each bed has a curtain that can be pulled around for privacy, but I noticed that most patients opted to keep their curtains open. In this way they could not only get to know their temporary "roommates", but – health permitted – were also able to add an additional pair of eyes to those of the overwhelmingly busy nursing staff. The plight of the NHS and its reductions in staff are so well known that patients tend not to want to "bother" the nurses, unless absolutely necessary. They can see – thanks to the open curtains – that the nursing staff are rushed off their feet. Going from bed to bed, bay to bay.

Mealtimes on the ward seemed to me to be a constant event – breakfast, lunch, dinner, not to mention mid-morning coffee and afternoon tea. All served atop a multi-tiered rattling trolley and all served with a smile. After all I’d read about the plight of the NHS, the general cheeriness of the hospital staff surprised me a bit. They seem to genuinely love their jobs and although rushed off their feet, the frock wearing nurses who hurried by still made time for a cheery hello.

My mother will be returning home tomorrow. The hospital bed will be in place. The carers who’ll come in twice a day all lined up and any medicines, or treatments will be provided as needed. All courtesy of a National Health Service that celebrates its 70th birthday on July 5th. Long may it reign.

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