I managed to fill in a registration form for my local surgery today, on my second attempt. To be clear, I didn’t actually register – that is a formal appointment next Wednesday. But they did at least let me fill in the registration form, which I have to do before I can have the registration, once I had gone all the way home to pick up some proof of address.
It all seems horribly familiar. I last attempted to register for a GP at my old address four years ago. Tried several local surgeries – all were “full up”. Even my landlord’s tip of emphasising that I lived in the leafy Finchley Garden Village* didn’t pay off. Things came to a particular head when I managed to contract the mumps from a dirty intern (thanks a bunch evil media) and no-one would see me. In a state of delirium I ended up walking to the nearby hospital and getting completely lost. I really didn’t think we lived in a country where it was so easy to get into such a state even after going to the authorities for help, but we do.
Back to the present, once I had provided my proof of address and established that my partner was already registered there, the actual form filling went along quite smoothly. The fact that beyond a cursory glance they took no interest in my proof, and that this rule was neither mentioned to me on the phone or on their website, suggests this isn’t a national policy, but a filtering mechanism. It wasn’t a way of determining who I was, but a trial of willpower.
Why is this? I can’t help but suspect it is related to the experience of one of my work colleagues. Of Turkish descent, but born and bred in Sussex, he registered for his GP on the same day as his fiance. Her form went through instantly. His, complete with his name full of Eastern promise, somehow managed to get stuck in limbo for three months and only got processed once he started making some not-too-veiled threats to them down the phone.
What I want to know is, to what extent are my and my colleague’s experiences related to a policy – unofficial or otherwise – to crack down on health tourism? This is the only semi-rational explanation I can come up with. But how well thought out is this policy? From where I’m sitting it is a policy that is doomed to fail. If you are determined to register, you will get on (and if you’ve come all the way from another country, you will be pretty determined). If on the other hand you aren’t really that bothered, you stay adrift. I’m only registering now, partly because of the endless nagging from pretty much my whole family (it’s a conspiracy!) and the fact that my asthma has come back with a vengeance after being in abeyance for the best part of six years.
In the case of the asthma, if I had managed to register four years ago, I’d have always had a beclazone and salbutamol inhaler on hand. If truth be told, it would almost certainly not have got as bad as it is now. Result? Assuming I do manage to get registered, I will probably end up taking more time than I would have done otherwise. And yes, I know, I should have seen this coming. I should look after myself more in general. But life gets in the way, and pretty much my entire experience of the NHS when I was a kid was having my mother told off by my dreadful then-GP for wasting his time (if he’d been a little more helpful, I somehow suspect my allergies would have been diagnosed before my twenties) and a dietician whose wonderful advice began and ended with eating more digestive biscuits. The clear message I got from the NHS when I was growing up was that I was broadly on my own and to only come to them in the case of a real emergency. So that tends to be what I do.
The NHS does a great job at looking after extremely sick people, treating injuries and in crisis situations, but in my experience it is absolutely appalling at preventative health. Is it really that difficult to provide everyone with the basics such as a registration system that can cope with people moving house every now and again? I do believe in universal healthcare, free at the point of need, but I do wish they didn’t seem to go so out of their way to test my patience.
* Which is basically a ridiculously cute little road with its own war memorial, village green, Lion, The Witch and The Wardobe-esque streetlight** and property prices in the millions. Needless to say I was renting!
** Since the Pevensie children are supposed to come from Finchley, I’ve often wondered if this was somehow an inspiration for the Narnia books, but have no way of knowing.