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My First Visit to the GP

Okay, I know it might sound funny for a 30-yr-old to write about her first trip to the doctor when she’s probably been going to see a doctor since she was born, but bear with me. Going to see a GP in the UK is a lot different than going to see the doctor in the US…and I don’t just mean because in the UK there is no co-pay!

My visit to the GP yesterday took all of 20 minutes. I got called back to the office at the exact time of my appointment, and the doctor was already waiting for me in his office. 20 minutes later, I was walking out with my new prescription in hand.

The health centre even has it’s own dispensary for prescriptions, and if they don’t have what you need, the co-op pharmacy is just one door over. We waited maybe 5 minutes for the prescription, and just like at the GP’s office, didn’t have to pay a co-pay to get it.

So, let’s talk about the NHS and using it as a spousal visa holder. Easy. All you have to do is walk into the GP office near your house and tell them you want to register as a new NHS patient. You fill out the new patient information for the GP, then THEY put your information into the computer, send it to the NHS, and about two weeks later your NHS number will be issued. You also are eligible for EHIC, which entitles you to free healthcare while travelling within the EU. At first, this looks like it involves filling out an application and sending in copies of your visa and waiting 21 days….but not if you’re on a spousal visa and are the spouse of a EU National. All your spouse has to do is call up EHIC and request a card for you. I should have my EHIC card in about 10 days.

There are other things that are different in the UK. For example, you don’t call the GP and set an appointment for way in the future. Most of the time, you’ll be asked about coming in later that day or the following day. The GP office also allows walk-in appointments (during set hours). The nurses at a GP office seem to have more responsibilities over nurses in a US doctor’s office in terms of what they handle for patients. The GP sees you in his office, not an exam room. I have to say, it’s a lot easier telling a doctor about your problems when you’re sitting in a friendly office setting and not perched on a cold table!

I was talking to the GP about Tim and I starting a family in 3-5 years and the first thing he did was offer me the implant birth control, which lasts for 3 years. He also told me that a woman isn’t high risk until age 40, and they usually do a natural birth unless something is really wrong or you are having a large baby. My US doctor had told me several years ago that if I wanted to have children, it would have had to be caesarian.

And did you know that if you throw up or have diarrhea within 3 hours of taking a pill, the medicine wasn’t absorbed by your body? I never knew this, and I’ve had digestive issues for several years now.

But the most astonishing part….it’s all free. No co-pays, no mysterious bills showing up in the mail later for tests you had in the office, no feeling like you need to take out a loan to afford your prescriptions…it’s all handled. Certainly makes you feel more comfortable about going in for preventative care!

Now, I won’t be stupid and claim that there aren’t any problems. Because of the free care the NHS offers, if you’re waiting for a non-emergency or non-essential surgery you might have a longer wait as they will schedule the emergencies first. And if you go to A&E (That’s Accidents & Emergency, known as the ER in the US), you’ll get seen based on the level of your emergency, not based on the order you arrived in, so if you go to A&E for something minor, expect a wait.

But I also know how good the NHS is. My father-in-law had a kidney transplant a few years ago, and Tim says he probably wouldn’t still be with us if it wasn’t for the NHS. When Tim’s gran went into the hospital, she was there for nearly 6 months and most of the time was just because she was too weak to be on her own. Tim’s family never saw a single bill. A 6 month stay in a US hospital can cost as much as half a million dollars.

I called my aunt last night to tell her about my doctor’s visit and she asked how much it cost. When I told her it was all covered by the NHS, her first response was “Why can’t we have something like that here [in the US]?”. I’d love to know.

Oh, and the GP gave me a prescription, but after I left he noticed it flagged in the system as something I wasn’t supposed to have, so he called over to the co-op to ask them to have me return to the office immediately. About 5 minutes after I arrived back at the GP, I was called back, given an apology, and walked out with a prescription I was allowed to have. I’m also going back over today to see someone about the arm infection my US doctor was trying to get rid of, and the GP doesn’t think I’ll need a skin graft like the US doctor did (of course, that might change based on today).

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