Monday, 10 June 2013

Polish doctors in the UK offer new healthcare model

A story that crept into this week's Economist made the front page of Saturday's Daily Wail. It appears that Polish doctors who set up a surgery just off the Hanger Lane gyratory are successfully filling the gap between an over-stretched but free public healthcare system and a grossly over-priced private system. Read the Economist article here. And now compare it to this piece here, which the Daily Mail's website has expanded from Saturday's front-page splash.

So. You're living in London, you or your child feels exceptionally unwell, unwell enough to seek urgent medical attention. You cannot get through: "Two thirds of NHS patients now have to wait 48 hours or more for a GP’s appointment," says the Mail. [GP = general practitioner = lekarz pierwszego kontaktu.] Not being registered with the NFZ in Poland, I don't know from first hand experience whether it's quite that bad here, but from what I gather, it's not. So, rather than risk waiting 48 hours or more, you opt to go private. But private doctors in England charge a fortune. If you can afford it - fine. Health is not something to skimp on. If you can't afford it, you're left with the NHS, England's Glory, Olympics opening ceremony etc - but when the chips are down, it can let you down.

Now, Polish doctors are offering a middle way. Cut-price private. All above-board, approved and trustworthy. Polish doctors, trained up to the same standard as NHS doctors, but willing to be flexible and to sell their services for one-third of what a private doctor typically charges in England. Willing, in other words, to challenge the long-established dominance of a class of professionals that since the late 19th Century has enjoyed privilege, status and wealth above and beyond other professionals in society. A doctor can offer private healthcare at prices that don't factor in his golf club fees, holidays on the Bahamas, Porsche Cayenne CS Turbo, children's schooling and six-bedroom house in Chalfont St. Giles. Doctors in the UK private sector have too long believed that such a lifestyle is their entitlement, and they charge accordingly. A new market entrant can challenge that assumption.

I've heard similar stories in Poland, though lower down the food chain. Young graduates from Lublin's medical academy have set themselves up in private practice, offering a paid-for but instant service for many not-too-ill people in that city who've not got time to faff about with the NFZ system and queues, but just want to be sent off to the nearest apteka with a quickie prescription for a sore throat or tummy bug.

The market will eventually catch up with absurdities, and verify them. The appearance of enterprising, well-trained Polish doctors in England who, rather than fall into the existing system as generations of immigrant doctors have in the past, are challenging it, is entirely welcome.

But if this phenomenon becomes more commonplace in England, it might become less welcome for Poland. These doctors are educated and trained courtesy of the Polish tax-payer, who after a while loses the benefit of the skills in which they have been investing.

Looking the other way - if you are here in Poland, suffering from something which might be food poisoning or might be a food allergy and you just don't know - have a look at the marvellous NHS Direct website. In particular, check your symptoms, here. Poland could well do with having a similar web-based service. I've used the NHS Direct online service twice (both times from Warsaw); both times it resolved the problem, saving a visit to the doctor.

The 21st Century will be one of huge breakthroughs in medicine, primarily through the application of computing power; Big Data, number-crunching genetic codes, vastly improved healthcare management, will all contribute to increased longevity and quality of life. So hats off to the Polish doctors for rocking a complacent boat.

This time three years ago:
The closure of the Góra Kalwaria - Pilawa railway link

This time five years ago:
My blazing bus pic gets on front page of Gazeta Stołeczna

This time six years ago:
Storm clouds rising

5 comments:

Liz said...

Polish "GPs" don't have the same wide ranging brief as do UK-trained GPs. In Poland they tend to refer patients elsewhere automatically for anything remotely to do with, for example, dermatology, laryngology, otolaryngology or ophthalmology (in which a friend of mine in the UK received a serious misdiagnosis from a Polish GP a couple of years ago). The memory of dealing in Poland with a child with an ear infection, although now long past, still haunts me. I'm not knocking Polish doctors, of whom I have formed a generally high opinion and received much excellent treatment (and have also encountered some serious failings in the NHS), it's just that I'm afraid I don't regard them as genuinely equivalent when it comes to GPs and would certainly have some doubts when it comes to sore throats.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

Is the reality that some clever Polish doctors have found a way to take good money off relatively wealthy but time-poor snobs who are too proud to wait an hour with the plebs to resolve some trivial medical complaints?

Sadly I'm afraid that your article reads like more "Poland good - England bad" propaganda. We're presented with the straw man that the NHS is crap and private doctors are all terrible snobs. Then some iconoclastic Poles yet again ride in to show what a mess Britain is. I recall your recent article in which you slammed BBC documentaries as 'old fashioned'. Oh, and Britain has 'terrible' train services. And so on. We can't do anything right here. If Britain is such a dump, good on you for leaving. But please don't expect readers to be fooled by such a rosy-tinted view of Polish civilisation. I admire the Poles, starting with the brave men my family billeted during the war, and recall fondly happy holidays in Poland, but you are over-selling the place. It has long been a country big enough to feel important yet not big enough to be important.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ WHP

Thanks for injecting some much-needed controversy! I'm not knocking the NHS, heavens forfend (my parents get their medication for free, and I can't complain at all about how they are treated).

What I am saying, is that a third way between the NHS, which, let's face it, is overstretched, and an over-priced fee-for-service-model private sector is to be welcome if only to relieve pressure on the NHS and to challenge the century-old assumption that private consultants deserve the lifestyle and social prestige that they have acquired.

The fact that it's doctors from Poland doing it is neither here nor there.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Liz

I think that a big part of this is to do with language, spoken and unspoken. After 15 years in Poland, I still have great difficulty with medical vocabulary ('partially severed rotator cuff' in Polish, please?). Angina in Polish means a sore throat, Angina in English means you're about to croak from a heart attack.

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