Wednesday, February 20, 2008
After years of fulminating against the Irish health service, I finally put my money where my mouth is.
For a long time, I have headed across the border to the North anytime I needed a check up, some primary care, or some minor emergency treatment. Who wouldn't, given the opportunity, since the British NHS is actually free? No fifty quid to see a doc, no fifty quid to get into A+E. Free to those who need it.
Not to mention shorter A+E queues, cleaner hospitals, more English-speaking staff, fewer flesh-eating bugs, etc, etc.
But I have needed a small operation on my toe for some years now. It wasn't the sort of thing you would get done quickly in the Irish health service, as I wasn't actually bleeding to death and don't have a VHI Plan E insurance card.
But increasingly, it was impeding my ability to walk. It's been years since I could kick a football. And because it is an existing complaint, even if I did sign up for private health insurance that I can't afford, the VHI or their corporate rivals wouldn't pay for the op.
I costed the operation in Ireland, and was quoted a significant four figure sum from a very well known private hospital in the greater Dublin area. This is a lot of money to me. So I decided to keep on suffering.
But the pain got progressively worse, so I looked further afield. In Britain, a number of private hospitals appeared able to do the minor operation required. They were, however, reticent to quote a price without my actually coming to them to be assessed. I can understand this need to assess first, but it is a very simple operation.
A doctor of my acquaintance warned me that it should be as easy to quote for such an operation as it would to quote for, say, laser eye surgery. He also warned that due to increasing medical tourism from Irish patients, and a perception that Irish patients are all loaded, some UK hospitals might possibly be guilty of inflating prices for Irish patients to the upper end of the scales.
Then I came across the Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok. Go look at their website. This hospital is as good as anything anywhere on earth. Their doctors are nearly all American or UK trained. The facilities are second to none. Ex-pats living all over Asia flock to it when they need medical treatment.
And they're cheap. My operation took an hour and cost 230 euro. In perfect sterile conditions, by highly qualified staffd, and complete with two follow-up examinations and post-operative medication.
While I was there, I met a lad whose cousin tragically succumbed to a drug overdose and has been in a coma in intensive care at the hospital for seven months. A doctor relative had told the lad I spoke to that he didn't believe the patient would have survived in Britain (or, by extension, Ireland) because the quality of care at Bumrungrad so greatly exceeded what was available back home.
I can believe that.
On the one hand, I feel cheap and tawdry for using what little financial clout I have to fly away from the car crash of the Irish health service to avail of proper world class medical facilities. I feel sad for those who can't afford to do likewise, for all those poor people trapped in squalor on trollies in our crowded and dangerous A+E wards.
On the other hand, I was never going to get my operation if I hadn't flown to Thailand to have it done.
Today, Newstalk Radio are holding a themed broadcast day about the Irish health service, which they've rightly entitled the 'Health Famine.' They've been asking people to call in with their stories. I don't do call ins, so I'm putting my story here instead.
This country is infinitely richer than Thailand, yet we cannot even approach the quality of care available there, at a fraction of the cost of healthcare in Ireland. That fact alone ought to have long since accounted for Mary Harney's political career. Why it hasn't is simply beyond me.
Perhaps the people of Ireland are too complacent and accepting of appalling healthcare to demand better. Or perhaps I should fly back to Bangkok and have my head examined.
God knows, it would be inexpensive and the quality of care would be magnificent.
My toe's grand now, by the way. Thanks for asking.