Becca Jane St Clair

Personal Blog

Archive for the 'Healthcare' Category

One Month!

I’ve officially lived in the UK for one month, as of….well, right now, since my plane landed at 530 in the morning on the 21st of January. I’m settling into married life and life in the UK, and things are starting to get sorted –

*I’ve been added to Tim’s bank accounts and have received my debit card
*I have my NHS number and card and have been in to see the GP several times
*I have an EHIC card, so I’m covered if Tim and I jaunt into the rest of the EU and I need a doctor
*I have my NI number, so I can open savings accounts and get a job (if we decide I should)
*I have a library card, which has proven to be quite useful
*We joined the co-op and started earning a small bit for dividends
*I’ve been contacted by a local choir and have been invited to attend rehearsal this week

….the only thing left is for me to sort out the Provisional License, I think. As that requires sending off my passport for a month, I wanted to make sure I got everything else taken care of first.

It’s been a wild and crazy month, but I do love it here. I love being with Tim and we’re slowly getting the house sorted (and re-decorated) and everything is falling into place. We’ve even got most of the reception here planned already!

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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).

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me.]

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British Crud

I’ve had Con Crud, and Cruise Crud, and the Canadian Death Cold…so I dub this, British Crud.

It started out with Tim having what I thought was a mild cold. He seemed to still be doing everything he needed to do, and went off to work each morning armed with packets of Lemsip (like Theraflu). He’s over it now, but he managed to pass it on to me….and boy, did he pass it on to me.

I’ve spent three of the past four nights sleeping down on the sofa because my sleeping patterns are so crazy. I’ll sleep for two hours, then be up for three, so I’ve been watching a lot of partial DVDs. I can barely breathe most of the time, so I’ve been wearing a breathe right strip on my nose whenever I’m indoors and using lots of Sudafed nasal spray (the only thing that clears my nose!). I coughed on and off, and I keep suffering from having an extremely dry mouth. Downing pint size glasses of Ribena every hour just to try to keep things from getting dry.

Everytime I think I might be “getting better”…something else hits. Today appears to be another day of needing to blow my nose every 15 minutes. Such joy.

In other news, Tim and I got out of the house yesterday and went to see Avatar. We both really liked it and I now see why it’s been winning awards. What I didn’t like was the snow/sleet that greeted us when we left the theatre. Yuck. Not what my cold needed. But I don’t think it made me any worse. By the time we got home, Tim just had enough time to eat dinner (soup in the crock pot) before heading out for his overnight shift.

And in some really good news – my visa debit card arrived for the bank account, so I don’t need to ask Tim for money if I need to go shopping. I also received the application (and sent it back) for my NI Number. Still no sign of the NHS card, but I need to wait until I kick this cold to go see the GP anyway.

So my life’s been a little boring lately, but I figured I’d post. I still also have previous trips that are begging to be written about, so hopefully I’ll find time to work on some of those as I’m feeling better.

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me.]

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A Visitor’s Guide to Getting Birth Control in the UK

[Note added 9/12/12: This post gets a lot of traffic because there isn’t a lot of information out there about this subject. Please note that this post was written in 2009. Information may have changed, so please check the links provided or ask at a local GP practice.]

It’s bound to happen to you – you’re traveling and didn’t calculate how much birth control you needed to bring with you, or you decide to extend your stay past the amount you’ve brought with you. The idea of making an overseas phone call to your doctor to get a prescription filled, then calling and begging a friend or relative to pick it up, pay for it, and ship it over to you just doesn’t sit well with you, either. So, what can you do, other than going off your birth control for a few weeks or months?

The UK-Yankee website and board is a fabulous place to start for information about anything regarding visiting/living in the UK as an American. Several of the ladies on the message board advised in the past that visitors have access to free birth control through the NHS. This some-what contradicts the big stamp in my passport that says “no recourse to public funds”, so I was a little skeptical.

I first researched family planning clinics in the area near Tim’s house. I found one in Grimsby that also had a website and e-mail address, and I contacted them with my questions. The woman who wrote back told me I would need to pay for the visit but the pills would be free, and gave me the number of a clinic closer to here. I didn’t call them.

Then, I did some more research online, and found the Marie Stopes organization. Marie Stopes provides birth control to low-income women throughout the world, and their main office is in London. I sent off an email inquiring if they had a location closer to here, and what the costs would be as a foreign visitor. Marie Stopes calculates their fees on a sliding scale (similar to Planned Parenthood), but did not tell me what fees would be charged to a foreign visitor. Unfortunately, their closest clinic to me was in Leeds, which isn’t all that close!

Several ladies on UKY mentioned Dr. Thom Dr Thom offers online birth control pill ordering – no exam or need to see a doctor. Dr. Thom charges £29.99 for a three-month supply. The only catch is that you have to already be on birth control and you must be on one of the pills Dr. Thom provides. Unfortunately, my brand of pill was not on the list. The only “American” brands I noticed were Yaz and Ortho-Tri-Cyclen. I emailed Dr. Thom and asked about ordering a similar pill, but was told they could not provide a pill I wasn’t already prescribed. Dr. Thom also requires the person placing the order to have a credit card in their name and a UK address associated with the card, so you would also need to add your UK address to your credit card before using their services.

It was beginning to become clear to me that I would need to try to see a doctor here, and I was a bit worried about the cost. There’s a family clinic (not family planning, just family clinic) in the next village over, so when Tim and I happened to be in that area, I stopped in with my old prescription.

I was told that if the dispensary supplied my brand, they would just give it to me, but since I was on a brand they were unfamiliar with, I needed to make an appointment to have a doctor give the prescription. I was told that as a visitor, I might need to pay £12 for the office visit, but they were not sure and would let me know when I had my appointment if that was alright with me. Well, £12 certainly didn’t seem like too much money to me, so I said that was fine.

My appointment took all of 10 minutes. The doctor weighed me, took my blood pressure, and asked me medical history questions. Then she looked up the chemical make-up of my pill and prescribed me a similar pill. I was expecting a month’s supply, but she prescribed me with a 3 month supply, and I was told to get it filled next door at the co-op. They did not mention paying a fee for the visit to me, but I assumed I would have to pay for my pills. I went next door, and to my surprise I was handed a 3-month pack of pills after a very short wait. I asked if I needed to pay for them, and was told no, they were covered under the NHS.

So, my advice to any of you ladies traveling to the UK who find yourself needing birth control (or the morning after pill, apparently), find a local family clinic or a family planning clinic…but don’t wait until the last minute. I started looking into things with 2 weeks left in my current pill pack, and by the time I saw the doctor and got a new prescription, I was less than a week away from running out!

For more information about what visitors are entitled to, please see:

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