My Struggle (and overall success…sort of) with the UK’s National Health Service

It’s no secret that compared to the rest of the first world countries, U.S. health care is crap. What I did not  realize is how early I would get to put that to the test. About a month ago I noticed this weird looking mark on my leg. Nothing too remarkable or anything, just big enough to be noticeable. While a bit unsightly it didn’t hurt and I had much bigger issues to contend with (such as MOVING TO A NEW COUNTRY HOLY CRAP WHAT!?!?) so I decided to ignore it….oops.

It got progressively bigger as the weeks went by. The day we left, I pointed it out to Kelsey who was convinced it was a spider bite. I don’t fault her for this diagnoses. Most would probably believe a similar thing, and seeing as it didn’t hurt I couldn’t exactly go to a doctor 36 hours before leaving the country and explain that, “the weird looking red spot on my leg didn’t hurt exactly, but could you do something about it please as I don’t like the aesthetic….”

Two days after arriving, it was no longer a little bug bite looking thing. Suddenly this seemingly insignifact bite was at least 4 inches across, several different colors, and had a bullet point rash around the outside of the wound. Now for those of you who don’t know, this is  a sure fire sign of lyme disease. While on Skype I showed the rash to my friend, who’s a licensed EMT, and she confirmed the suspicion.  So to recap: less than 3 days into being here and suddenly I’m diagnosed with lyme disease.

Now, supposedly I’m one of the lucky ones because I had the enormous, ugly, rash on my leg. Having this rash is the first sign of lyme disease and only 1/3 of people contracted with the virus get it. So really, it’s a blessing that it was caught so early….right…..

I wasn’t sure on the protocols of seeing a doctor over here and as a result, I’m shamed to say I didn’t exactly make this a top priority. It took me upwards of 2 1/2 weeks to take care of everything. These are the things I did find out though:

  • You need a GP (general practioner) and health insurance number to be seen by a doctor.
  • The only way to get a GP is to have an address. The reason for this is so you can have a GP in your zip code. Brilliant really, but frustrating when you don’t have an address
  • They have an NHS (National Health Insurance) number which you’re supposed to call if you need a doctor but it’s not an emergency (Side note: 911 here is 999. NHS is 111) When I called 111 I’m fairly certain the woman was super confused about why I was calling her at 7:30 am and her advice was to go see a pharmacist to get some drugs. This led me to believe that a doctor wasn’t even necessary…
  • There are pharmacists everywhere here. The CVS equivalent is called Boots but they’re all over. When I went to one the licensed nurse on staff told me I needed to get a prescription. She called a GP in the area of my air b&b and told me to go there
  • I walked 45 minutes to get to this GP on a Monday morning. Got there around 11:45 am. At this particular office I was told they could only register 10 new people every week with the beginning of the week starting on a Monday and they’d already filled their quota. Yup. I was there at 11:00 they opened at 8:00 and it was already full. This is so not to overwhelm the doctors with too many patients. Again, great idea for the UK, frustrating for me.

As you can see at this point I didn’t know what the hell to do….

For those who don’t know, Kelsey and I have been in London since last Wednesday so I asked the woman we’re staying with here what I should do. She sent me a bunch of forms, and paperwork, and all sorts of things that would be exceedingly helpful….if I had an address……it seemed no matter which way I went, I needed an address to be seen by a doctor.

Eventually my friend (same EMT friend actually) who had lived in London for two years told me to just go to the emergency room. They were required by law to see me there. I was concerned about emergency room fees, but knew I was out of options. I found an A&E in London, walked there, told them I needed help, and that was essentially it. The man behind the desk gave me a piece of paper to fill out which took 5 seconds. I waited about 30 minutes, went in and saw a nurse. She had no idea what lyme disease was but told me to go down the hall to the minor injury clinic. I did that, saw a doctor about an hour later and within 5 minutes he had written me a prescription. No blood work necessary, no other forms, no nothing. He told me I needed to register with a GP fairly quickly so I could receive more drugs since I’ll need about a months worth of treatment but that was it…..

Now you’re probably thinking that this was an extremely expensive process right? The entire experience including the emergency room, the urgent care unit, and the drugs cost me a grand total of…..£8.20. Roughly $15.00. Yup. The US seriously needs to step up its game.

3 thoughts on “My Struggle (and overall success…sort of) with the UK’s National Health Service

    1. Haha. True. I forgive her though. It’s not a common disease here. 🙂 And because it wasn’t an actual emergency, they sent me to the Minor Care Clinic so as to deal with more critical patients. I’m just glad I got seen!


  1. The wait is a bit of a slog but I’m sure you had your phone with you ;-D I’m ready to shell out for a British Airways trip every time I get a cough if it means I only have to pay eight quid to see a doctor. Jesus.


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