As the health care debate rages on in America, people may wonder what's like to live in a society where health care is available to all. I, for one, am living the experience. After paying for private health insurance for nearly 20 years in the U.S., I moved to Britain, where health care is free and available for all.
In the United States, nearly one out of six adult Americans is uninsured. Here in the U.K., I'm in the waiting room with people from all walks in life, and to me, that's the way it ought to be.
Some people may say that providing universal health care means a lower standard of health care. I would say that's not the case. The health care service in the U.K. is just different, abiding to a more holistic guiding philosophy than what Americans are used to. Not worse, just different.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the U.K. ranks higher than the U.S. in health care. The infant mortality rate is actually lower in the U.K., at 4.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to the U.S., where there are 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Since I'm now pregnant with my second child, I've been using quite a lot of the services provided by the NHS, the National Health Service, which provides universal health care for everyone who steps foot on British soil.
Having the first baby under private health care in the U.S. and then having the next one under socialized medicine in the U.K. can be daunting.
Here in the U.K., midwives do most of the regular checkups instead of obstetrics doctors. Midwives specialize in providing care to pregnant women, assistance in childbirth, and postpartum help. They'll even come to your house to assist if you want to give birth in the comfort of your own home. The NHS in Glasgow, Scotland, where I live, also mandates a midwife come and check on me within 10 days after giving birth. In Philadelphia, where my first daughter was born, I saw my doctor six weeks after giving birth (six weeks of anxiety, sleepless nights, and postpartum excruciating pain after a c-section, I might add).
The first ultrasounds are routinely done in Scotland when the woman is 15 weeks pregnant, while the first ones in the U.S. are usually done at 7 weeks. It's one of the early indicators that something may be wrong with the pregnancy. But because I had problems with previous pregnancies, I was scanned at 7 weeks. While in the U.S., I was a patient at a fertility clinic, undergoing MRIs and CAT scans. However, in Glasgow, I was referred to a recurrent miscarriage clinic, where midwives talked to me about relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and exercise. I finally did get pregnant in the U.K, but of course, there's no firm scientific evidence for why it happened in Scotland. Maybe it was the haggis!
While I'm expecting, I get to schedule free physical therapy appointments. The NHS knows and understands that it's not easy to walk, sit or even sleep with someone growing inside. The comprehensive health care goes beyond doctors' appointments in the U.K.
British hospitals are certainly not the same as American hospitals. On the maternity floor, there's a central dining hall where new mums are expected to gather for hot meals. Tables are set with knife, fork and spoon on serviettes. There's no delivery to your hospital bed as it is in America. The list of "what to bring to the hospital" includes your own snacks, drinks, and strangely enough, your makeup.
People have said bringing your own antiseptic wipes to your room is a good idea to prevent hospital infection. It's only because the cleaning regimen has been scaled back to save the NHS money. But hospital bugs are an issue in America also.
However, hospital stays are kept to a minimum here. If you give birth naturally, you may be able to go home the same day. For a caesarean section, you can leave on the third day, while in America, I finally got out of my hospital bed on the third day and checked out on the fifth day. Looking back, if I forced myself to walk sooner, I might've sped up my recovery.
Granted, getting a check with an industrial flashlight, better suited for looking under the hood of my car, can seem a little low-tech, but is the stirrup and Hollywood lighting less humiliating? I'm not sure about that.
Yes, the U.K.'s health care system may not seem as dazzling and glamorous as the U.S., but universal medicine serves a far greater purpose than looking good for the ones who have health care.