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11:44am on Sunday, 3rd August, 2008:

Short Trip


Yesterday, when leaving the swimming pool and walking the few yards to her lounger, my wife managed to slip on a damp patch. The second toe on her left foot folded under itself and went like this:

This morning, I finally persuaded her to go to the ship's medical facility to find out if it was broken. It turns out it isn't, but the tendon is probably ripped. Yes, the fact I've told you this now rather than leaving it as a dramatic ending to a story of courage means that it's not the focus of this blog post.

No, what I'm going to blog about is the National Health Service. See, this ship (the Celebrity Galaxy), is American-owned, which means it has American healthcare facilities. So it wasn't merely a case of visiting the doctor, getting an X-ray and then having a toe bandage put on, oh no. It was a case of 20 minutes of form-filling, a trip to deck 11 to show the ship's Safety Officer the scene of the accident, another form to fill in, and then, finally the X-ray and treatment.

What's more, it was all chargeable. We have travel insurance that we can claim any health expenses back on when we get home, but even so my wife was reluctant to proceed, and probably would have backed out if I hadn't made her go through with it. The doctor was apologetic in explaining all this fee busineess to us — and yes, the doctor explained it. A man who is trained to heal people has to tell them about the finances involved and watch them weigh up the cost of getting their injury looked at or deciding to live with the pain in the hope it will go away. It was very embarrassing for him, and frustrating, too — it was basically an "I'm sorry, I can't help you unless you fill in these forms and pay some money" situation.

As it happened, the Safety Officer decided that my wife's slip was an accident and that we therefore didn't need to pay for treatment. It was on the house, but offered as a courtesy and implied no admission of liability. I think maybe they have their own insurance for accidents.

This was for a badly-bent toe. Imagine if it was for something more serious, like a compound fracture! Yet this is how things are the whole time in some countries. You get hurt, but you don't get treatment unless you can pay for it.

The NHS is 60 years old this year. Most people in the UK take it for granted. They grump and gripe about waiting for treatment and about not getting the expensive drugs that they've heard might help their condition, but really, they're actually getting something first class pretty well for free. After this small exposure to an alternative system, I have renewed respect for the NHS. It may not be perfect, but it's closer to being so than the American system, that's for sure.

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).