Love Your NHS – experiencing health care abroad


In honour of the NHS reaching its seventieth year our Programme Manager, Stuart Clough shares his experiences of health care abroad and a stark reminder of why we should all love our NHS.

After a recent Christmas break to Thailand, I came back to the usual stories of NHS pressures and the demands on our healthcare system, which is something most of us take for granted. I’ve always been proud and passionate when it comes to our national treasure, working as a part of it and as a British citizen benefiting from one of our greatest services.

But it made me wonder, do we appreciate the NHS? Do we really understand how lucky we are? Don’t worry if you don’t, I’m guilty of not truly appreciating how wonderful our NHS is until now…

Love Your NHS blogMy first Christmas away from home, my family and our cold winter weather, me and my wife decided to do something different and visit my brother-in-law who lives in Thailand. I know what you are thinking, amazing right? Well yes, it was, however, there is a but, quite a big BUT.

After spending time hopping around the islands we decided to have a quiet three days in a peaceful resort. After 24 hours, my wife began to struggle with a variety of symptoms and on day two of the relaxing break, enough was enough and we were left with little alternative but to call a doctor and get an ambulance to the island’s international hospital.

This was when it really kicked in, you hear about it, you see it on the TV, you moan at purchasing your travel insurance but you never think it will happen to you. Well it did. I’ve worked for the NHS for over 10 years now; I know it like the back of my hand. Not in Thailand though. Not a clue. I’ve no idea about how a private system works. I just know you have to pay for what happens.

So what does happen?

The ambulance arrived taking us on a 40-minute journey to one of the island’s international hospitals. My wife was stretchered into the Emergency Department and was met by a team of three nurses and a doctor. Sounds normal? Wrong. They immediately asked us for confirmation that we had travel insurance and for her passport – proof and assurance that you are going to foot the bill, so they kept hold of it.

All this happens alongside the medics getting down to business. Efficiently, my wife was quickly prescribed some medication to reduce her fever and her bloods taken. We were informed she needed some X-rays. Fine. Then we are told the cost of these (in the hundreds for those wondering) and asked if we were we happy to proceed. At this point, did we have a choice?

Things move on, we were then greeted with the news that she needs to be admitted as an in-patient, a dampener to miss a few days on the sun lounger but even more so when you are told the costs, (just for a bed alone)! Let’s just say we start to hit the thousands by this point.

Thankfully, we only needed to be in for one to two nights, medical assessment permitting but still a lot of money! I should add at this stage, we had travel insurance but the insurers only authorised us to go ahead with treatment, we had no guarantees of their financial support until the episode is closed (when she has been discharged), though we were told by the hospital ‘insurance case handler’ it shouldn’t be a problem.  I must admit I didn’t feel completely reassured at this point.

Rattling up a bar bill in Thailand can be cheap but I was soon realising that this wasn’t quite going to work out the same when it boils down to healthcare! So by now in the hospital, my wife and I are scared as we don’t know what’s wrong and I’m conscious of mounting costs in the event the insurance company find a loophole and won’t cover the claim. That said, we were in no doubt about going ahead, you can’t put a price on health and to that end I wasn’t bothered – she’d receive the care she needed.

Love your nhs

Stuart’s need for private health care overseas made him appreciate our NHS all the more

What was the hospital like?

It was clean, modern and we were content. My wife was comfortable, she was starting to feel better as the medicine kicked in and we were in a side room sharing with a New Zealand couple who also had the unwanted misfortunes of illness thrust upon them. The care from staff was compassionate and language was not particularly a barrier. Apart from missing the sun, and for anyone who knows me will know that’s a big part of my life, we were happy. Our creature comforts were taken care of –  the lunch menu had great choice, we had a TV with plenty of channels and I even had a nice sofa I could spend the night on as a visitor!

Anyway, that’s just a snapshot of our time in a hospital abroad. I am glad to say my wife is now fully recovered with no long term damage to her health.

Let’s love our NHS

What remains to be said is that it was an experience I wish nobody reading this has to face. It’s daunting and a little frightening being on unfamiliar ground where you have no idea how the system works despite feeling like we were in safe hands. There is added pressure in cost too, in total, this cost thousands. It’s staggering to imagine what costs the NHS absorbs when people become ill, and are admitted for more acute issues. And however frustrating the waits can be, it’s free. I firmly believe that without the NHS, we would suffer, people wouldn’t get the care they need and families would struggle.

The NHS doesn’t always get everything right, but who does? Staff in our healthcare system are fantastic and we should protect the NHS whilst we can.

I  must add a huge thank you to the team at the hospital in Thailand. Their care and compassion was exceptional and for that I  only have praise for them. My wife has made a full recovery and without the team, it could have turned out far worse.

I hope that my experience sheds some light on how lucky we are to have free healthcare. I am probably preaching to the converted but please support our NHS, it’s incredible. It’s the 70th year this year and I want it to go on and on.

I hope you have enjoyed the read,

The National Health Service is turning 70 years old on 5 July 2018. It’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate the achievements of one of the nation’s most loved institutions, to appreciate the vital role the service plays in our lives, and to recognise and thank the extraordinary NHS staff – the everyday heroes – who are there to guide, support and care for us, day in, day out. Find out more from NHS England.

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