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     Volume 9 Issue 41| October 22, 2010 |

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Straight Talk

A Friend in Need


I stared at the clock hanging on the stark white wall. Was it just me or was time slowing down and were the hands on the clock moving in slow motion? The silence of the room was suddenly broken by a voice telling me I could go upstairs and wait. I jumped up and headed for the stairs. You would have thought I had been told I was about to win the lottery not just been given the go ahead by the receptionist to move from the waiting room downstairs and relocate myself in front of my doctors office upstairs and wait some more. But my slight frus tration at the long waiting time is a negligible price to pay when I have the luxury of seeing a doctor or having any treatment necessary to me free of charge, care of the NHS. That too regardless of whether it is treatment for a cough or cold, open heart surgery, obstetric care, treatment for an accident or even care for a terminal illness. A luxury not afforded to most people in other parts of the world. I only have to look to Bangladesh to know how lucky we are to have such a universal system of health care coverage in the UK.

The National Health Service (NHS) which was launched in 1948 in the UK by the then Labour government has over the last sixty years become the world's largest publicly funded health service and is considered to be 'most egalitarian and most comprehensive'. It was born out of the concept that good healthcare should be available to everyone 'free at the point of delivery, based on need and not the ability to pay'. This principle is still fundamental to the ongoing existence of the NHS. If I were to be treated at an NHS hospital, I would expect to be given the same level of care as would be given to the Prime Minister of England or even our local dustbin man. Although nowadays, there is a charge for optical and dental services and also for prescriptions for medication, the NHS is still free for anyone who is resident in the United Kingdom. According to statistics the NHS caters to more sixty million people and employs over 1.7 million staff!

The National Health Service has always been funded centrally from national taxation, but the NHS services in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are managed separately. 'While some differences have emerged between these systems in recent years, they remain similar in most respects and continue to be talked about as belonging to a single, unified system'. The budget for the NHS is currently around the £100 billion figure.

It is strange to think that over 60 years ago the United Kingdom was in a similar predicament to that of Bangladesh in 2010 where healthcare is exclusive and also relatively expensive and therefore not readily available to millions of people around the country. Although we have our own government run hospitals where Bangladeshi nationals are supposed to have equal access, in actual fact most of these institutions appear to lack adequate resources and the necessary healthcare professionals while others that are based mostly in the city are just ill equipped to deal with the sheer number of patients and have a substandard level of hygiene and sanitation. A pre requisite for any medical care centre one would think.

To those people in Bangladesh living below the poverty line, being sick or ill is synonymous to suffering and misery. The only way to see a doctor or receive treatment is to pay. In the same way that the NHS does not discriminate between patients, most doctors and hospitals in our country do not have a different payment scheme for those who are unable to afford the asking fees or charges. The rickshaw driver on the streets would have to pay the same amount as the person sitting next to him in his air-conditioned car. The outcome of this somewhat skewed healthcare system that we have is that a vast number of people who are in desperate need of medical attention and treatment just do not receive it, which can result in permanent debilitation or even death. If I am being cynical then our health care slogan should be “If you don't have the money, you can't afford to be sick”. Those who do have the financial capability tend these days to seek treatment overseas. Although we have highly qualified doctors in Bangladesh, the aftercare given in hospitals and the lack of proper facilities has become a deterrent for people to stay in the country. Thailand and Singapore and also India are the preferred destinations when it comes to receiving healthcare services for affluent Bangladeshis. The health and welfare of our family is possibly the most important thing to us and if we have the ability we would want to provide and receive the best care possible but sadly not everyone is able to benefit from what should be a basic human right.

The NHS is by no means perfect and in recent years has come under much criticism for being inefficient and expensive. Despite increases in the budget for healthcare, there have still been numerous closures of hospitals, which put additional pressure on the remaining facilities. Complaints from patients of long waiting times, dates for procedures taking place weeks, even months after diagnosis, hospital beds not being readily available and a whole barrage of other difficulties hound the healthcare system. In some respects it has become somewhat of an albatross, a virtual black hole in terms of funding but, on the other hand, this unwieldy behemoth is still a Godsend for those who would otherwise be unable to afford the healthcare necessary to them or their families.


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