NHS and strep

            We are the kind of family that believes in sharing.  If Zach picks up a little bug at school, he feels compelled to not only bring it home for his brother and parents, but to raise it to the third power before passing it along.  So, I was not surprised a few months ago when the boys and I all had sore throats together.

            There are sore throats and there are sore throats.  And I am one of those people who is unlikely to see the doctor unless my arm is hanging off by a tendon.  But, I do know when I have strep throat.  Since the boys seemed to have the same problem that I did, we all went in to the GP together.

            “Hmmm,” he said.  “That is quite an aggravated throat.  I had better culture it.”  He did not culture the boys, on the principle that they had whatever I had, and I was definitely the most willing patient.

            “Should I start on antibiotics?” I asked, since I knew full-well what was wrong with me.  No, NHS protocol is to wait for the culture, which I do understand.  Not wise to just hand out antibiotics to everyone who asks for them.

            The next day, I called up to get the results of my culture.  “Oh, that won’t be back today,” the receptionist said.  I knew she was mistaken.  It was a strep test; those suckers can be completed in the time it takes Benjamin to eat three strawberries.  I asked her to check, just in case it was in.  “No, not back,” she said. 

            “I’ll call back tomorrow, then.”

            “It won’t be here then, either,” she replied.  “Strep tests take at least a week to come in.”  A week?  A week?!  For a strep test?  And we were not allowed antibiotics until the culture came back.  So, my preschooler, my toddler, and me were supposed to walk around for a week with strep throat, waiting for the results of a test that I already knew the results of.

            Over the week, my throat got worse.  From what I could tell, so did my sons’.  Then, it got better.  We all seemed to be feeling better.  I stopped calling the doctor’s office.  And then, eight days after I had been cultured, the doctor called me.  I had strep.  “It would be best if we gave you all a course of antibiotics,” he said.

            Right.  So, apparently, NHS protocol is as follows.  Patients are to live through the incredibly painful symptoms and fight them off on their own. Only once they are feeling better are they to be treated for their illness. They are also to walk about infecting other people for a good week, because the money saved from taking eight days to get a culture back can then go towards culturing all the other people who were exposed to strep in the time that the doctor refused to diagnose them.

            There have been times I have seen NHS as a minor inconvenience, one I am more than willing to put up with on the principle of everyone having medical coverage.  There have also been times I have been shocked at the incompetent doctors.  And, although I know many of you felt our rash experience was just a bad doctor, it was actually just one in a string of encounters that showed me that NHS is not doing its job, that this universal health coverage often means no coverage at all.

            I do not know what the answer is.  I do know it is not NHS.

28 responses to “NHS and strep

  1. That’s ridiculous, really.

    The thing is that the NHS needs a complete overhaul, but you couldn’t do it without, say, stopping all healthcare for a month while you got things in place. It can’t be done.

  2. Weird.

    I’ve had socialized health care all my life, and when I have strep throat, I don’t have to wait 8 days to get a culture back before getting medication. Maybe 2 days, on one or two occasions, but never 8.

  3. I’m glad you’ve done this series of post. I understand why people are so excited about a universal healthcare system in the US, but I think they accept the solutions offered by politicians without really looking into how it would lower our standard of care. There has to be a better solution out there. But what? How can you have both a good privatized system and care for those who can’t afford insurance? Maybe you have to sacrifice one for the other.

    Blessings on the move!

  4. A week for strep test results? That’s insane! And then to offer you antibiotics after you’ve gotten better? I admit that Iknow next to nothing about NHS but these stories you’re telling are kind of blowing my mind. Is the system always this screwy?

  5. I agree with you this time, it is ridiculus.

  6. this is not good. Matt’s husband lives in the UK and they have many, many not good stories.

  7. We don’t have a lot of money, but don’t consider ourselves poor. My husband’s company has health care offered for me, but it’s an extra 500 a month. We just can’t do it. We have to make choices for me about what we can and can’t do. However, I am glad that I have a choice where to spend my money (when I have it) and when. Though, if I were a single mom with lots of kids it would be a lot harder for me and my children. There are pros and cons to both systems. I don’t know the answer either, but after reading your stories I am VERY reluctant to say it is NHS.

  8. not cool, dude.
    not cool at all.
    this is just one example of why I do not trust doctors to heal me.

  9. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such a generally negative experience with the NHS.

    We’ve had some frustrations ourselves, but on the other hand, we had frustrations with the American health system when we were living in the US.

    My own (subjective) experience is that the NHS is much better than the HMO I had in the US when I didn’t have a great job. However, the NHS is worse than the top-notch health insurance I had when I had an excellent job.

    I’ve found the NHS to be mediocre on some things (like infertility treatment) and superb on others (like prenatal care for pregnant women.)

    Just to move this out of the realm of personal anecdotes, it might be worth looking at some statistics. I believe the UK has worse rates for cancer survival than the US–but, on the other hand, it has vastly better rates on infant mortality.

    About 17% of Americans say they are happy with their current health care; about 25% of Britons say the same. (I’m quoting all these statistics from memory). So, neither country is doing great, but the UK seems to be doing better.

    And finally… and here is the statistic that always amazes people… the US government actually spends MORE tax money per capita than the UK government on health care. That’s right: the UK’s universal health care system actually requires LESS government funding than America’s patchy, mostly private system.

    I suspect that’s because, in the US, uninsured people put off treatment until they are about to collapse, at which point they go to the emergency room… which ends up being more expensive than if they had just gotten preventive medical care in the first place.

    All in all, both systems are far from flawless–but on the balance, I don’t think the UK system is any worse, and it may be a little better for society as a whole. After all, in the UK, you can always pay for private treatment if you’re unhappy with the public treatment. In the US, public treatment just isn’t an option.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get going. I’m heading off to the free pre-natal class that my local hospital offers for all expectant parents…

  10. Eight days is just crazy. I can see how you reached your conclusions (from this and other posts) about NHS.

    Any chance we could do it better here than the Brits? (Just wanted to give you a good laugh.)

  11. Oh my. Nina would have been a basket case this year if we ever had to wait that long. Our strep cultures are done in the office, take five minutes to process, and allow us to leave with a script. Yay for our family, who is covered by one of the top 5 health insurance plans on the globe (my organization is self-funded). Of course we are rare, and we are grateful too. But everyone should have what we have.

  12. Not good at all.

    Though I will say that one point in NHS’s favor is that you were actually able to get an appointment scheduled before the strep had run its course. I never bother calling my doctor any more because the waiting time for an appointment is generally two to three weeks. And if you’re so sick that you need to be seen immediately, you’re told to go to the emergency room.

    Not that getting a timely appointment actually helped you in any meaningful way….

  13. catching up… you’re moving FRIDAY! yikes!

    good luck!

  14. We spoke about this before and I think it is crazy. I took my daughter to the dr. last week with a sore throat. Her rapid strep came back negative, but they put her on antibiotics anyway telling me that “it is standard practice to treat family members who are sick for strep if someone else in the family has/had it.”

  15. Did you take the antibiotics after you guys had already fought off the infection? I know over-prescribing is bad for everybody, but sometimes, man, I just want those magik pills.

  16. Ugh. I am so sorry. I can’t imagine. Last year I went and got a strep test, waited in the doctor’s office for 10 minutes and the results were back in. I can’t imagine waiting around (not only you, but the little ones too!!!) for over a week. That is insane!!
    I agree. NHS is not the answer. There must be a better alternative. My hubby is self-employed and our health insurance premium every month is at much as our mortgage payment. That is obviously not the answer either. Craziness!

  17. what a nightmare. i’m so sorry. health care seems to be a problem everywhere….

  18. By my calculations, it’s about 11PM where you live as I leave this, perhaps too late for you to check it out today, but I’ve just noticed, Emily, you’re the 84th fastest-growing blog on WordPress. Maybe this happens to you all the time. You certainly deserve it. Maybe not. But I thought you’d want to know and I’m delighted to be able to tell you.

  19. Oh, right, Daylight Savings Time! So, more like just before 10PM! So maybe you’ll see this before bed.

  20. This is such a timely comparison for me, Emily, because I am recovering from strep right now. How long did it take for me to get the results? 5 minutes. My doc does a “quick test” which has some false negatives but shows the positives. Simultaneously she does the culture test which she sends to the lab for confirmation. Yeah. So I knew in 5 minutes that I had strep, in 10 minutes (from a nose swab) I knew I did NOT have the flu. And with that, I walked out with a prescription in hand. I’m a huge advocate for universal health care so hearing your perspective on this is very valuable. I wonder what can be improved to make it work? I don’t hear similar complaints about France’s system, though I have to admit most of my data comes from Michael Moore’s Sicko movie…

  21. you’re lucky it didn’t turn to scarlet fever (which happened to my daughter) or rheumatic fever (which happens if it is untreated and can affect the heart)

  22. It is crazy that at this day and age that anyone actually has to send off strep tests to be cultured. The technology to do a quick test has been around for a long time! I definitely remember growing up having the quick test for the private US doctors, where the HMOs didn’t offer this service and would culture and send off the tests in a similar vein. I don’t know whether the US HMOs are now up to date- or are as behind the times as your NHS surgery- but given the prevalence of strep among kids…

  23. Isn’t that week thing for the more advanced test. I thought that they could do a faster version, less accurate, but faster in an hour.

  24. All I can say is that I could not agree more!

  25. Well, why didn’t you go 8 days BEFORE he brought the bug home? NHS works fine when you plan ahead like that. 😉

  26. Pingback: The Trolls in My Skull and the NHS « Weekly Shocks’ Blog

  27. On the NHS issue, please don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. I live in Israel, where a two-day wait for a throat culture is standard. The NHS care here is good. Not straight-A’s-all-the-way, but good, and everyone’s covered. It’s just plain wrong that the world’s wealthiest nation doesn’t provide health care for its citizens.