A further entry in Justin O’Connor’s Shanghai Diary 2005 [context and introduction here]. This entry is dated 2nd July 2005, and sees Justin offer up his swollen toe as a device for comparing Chinese and British health services.
I know NHS stories are boring but … sparing you the details of my swollen toe, I visited the hospital yesterday. It’s about 5 minutes walk away from where I am. This is how it goes. You walk in. It’s crowded. There are no fried fast food stalls in the front as in the UK. If you want food you buy it from a food shop. Its not a four-star hotel but it’s not shabby or dirty. It looks clean and efficient, like a hospital. I cannot vouch for the presence or absence of matrons. Anyway, this is for out-patients. You go to a window and book an appointment with a particular department. If you are a Shanghai resident, you have a card and you get a certain amount of money every month that goes on to that card. To spend as and when. If you are not from Shanghai you pay cash. I paid a quid. Let us say that things are 10 times cheaper; that’s 10 quid. You go to the department and are given a ticket. There were 25 people in front of me. In England that would suggest embarking on a short shopping trip or a good run at that thick new novel you’ve been meaning to read for ages but keep falling asleep. I waited 10 minutes. The doctor was a specialist in bones. He diagnosed my problem very quickly. He sent me for a blood test and an x-ray to check. In the UK that would mean going to another hospital and waiting for at least half an hour. Then two weeks for the results to come through. Of course, seeing the specialist in the first place involves a referral from your GP – a morning off work to do that. Then a wait of around 4 weeks. I recently tried to get a MRI scan in Manchester. I was told that 6 weeks was the minimum waiting time because they were installing a new one. The specialist appointment took me 5 weeks. To go from GP to specialist to test to GP to specialist can take over six months in England. I missed an appointment because I was in Milan (I told them, it’s a long story). It went up to 8 months.
After waiting for the doctor for 10 minutes I went downstairs to the x-ray and walked in. I then went to a counter where they pricked my finger and put the blood on some slides and a guy looked at it and put it in some machine and gave me a print out. After doing the blood test I waited 5 minutes and my x-ray and analysis was handed back. I then went up to the doctor who looked at it all and gave me a prescription. I went down stairs and paid for this. 2 quid, or 20 quid if we are doing the 1-to-10 thing. A process that would take months in the UK took about two hours. In a developing country. I’m not an expert on health systems. And I realize that 2 quid (30rm) is a day’s wage for labourers. But the fact that a hospital in the middle of a city of 15 million can do this so quickly made me think something is very very wrong in the UK.
This impression of Shanghai is by Justin O’Connor. All Shanghai Diary entries.
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