Belfast Telegraph

I had to pay out for treatment to an injury on holiday, but I'm more worried that our free NHS is dying from a thousand cuts

By Lindy McDowell

Recently, down in Portugal, I had to have what those in the medical community would term "a procedure". It wasn't a terribly serious procedure. A small injury to my back which, as it turned out, subsequently required a number of wound dressings (€10 a time) following the initial consultation and then the painful extraction of €145 from my pocket.

I don't want to sound ungrateful. In fact I'm anything but. I was treated with courtesy, efficiency and care by truly professional medical staff.

But still.

Accustomed as we are in this part of the world to free medical care, €185 for a simple injury felt like a bit of a slap up the bake.

And I know what you're thinking at this point - didn't I have travel insurance?

No. The one time...

On the plus side, it was an interesting and illuminating insight into how they do healthcare elsewhere in the EU.

I didn't actually have to make an appointment. I just went along to the local clinic where I had to wait in a queue - even to reach the receptionist.

There was a ticket machine where you're required to take a number and wait your turn.

By the time I'd spotted this machine though, about six people had already queue-jumped me.

Much later (and honestly this wasn't a speedy process) I was sent upstairs.

Another wait.

Eventually I got to see the doctor who attended to my injury before sending me on my way with a cheery handshake.

Downstairs again, having snipped off another ticket, I was back in the big queue. It felt like a sort of medical Tesco checkout till.

Every little helps...

I know we all say this all the time - but this sort of experience really does make you appreciate the health service.

The free health service.

How very lucky we are to have the health service.

We all say that. Not just for the big life-saving stuff (and believe me I have a family reason to be grateful for that) but for the everyday-ish sort of medical attention that, back here, we never even bother to mentally cost.

Sadly, the truth is the health service is now on its knees.

And in order to resuscitate it, we would seem to have two choices. Either the government decides to shore up our failing health service by diverting public funding from other vital areas - education, for example.

Or we accept that the fabulous free Health Service we've enjoyed all our lives (and take for granted) will no longer be a free for all.

Money has to come from somewhere.

But from where? Some say charge the smokers. The drunks and druggies who clutter up A&E. People who eat junk food and have an aversion to kale. Slobs who don't exercise...

But by the time we've excluded everyone who's offended against healthy living edicts, about the only person who's going to be welcome in Casualty will be Mo Farah.

A fairer plan would be to charge people who fail to turn up for doctor's/hospital appointments. And not only to charge for prescriptions but to cut down on the scope of items available on prescription. There also needs to be a real clampdown on those abusing the system.

I'm not necessarily talking about "health tourism" here.

Much closer to home there are plenty of people who appear to have neither the inclination, nor the wit, to think twice before plonking themselves in an overworked A&E.

A friend was telling me recently about sitting in the emergency waiting room (with a serious injury) where she got chatting to a mother who'd brought in her "sick" child.

The little girl had a tiny blood blister on her finger...

The magnificent health service, the envy of the world, is now dying a slow, sad death.

It's death by a thousand cuts.

And the real tragedy is that so many of them are not really all that serious.

Rare birds of a feather to stick together

Good news for Icelandic geese... they are now reportedly being guarded by loyalist paramilitaries on the Shankill, who’ve put the word out that they’re not to be touched.

(Apparently this followed some tasteless jokes about how the geese might make a good Christmas dinner.)

The geese have been visiting the estate annually to winter out.

But who knew the paramilitaries were such bird fanciers?

The feathered wing of the UDA/UVF.

Their only crime was ornithology...

Why life is now a beach for ex-President

No sooner had he escaped — if that’s the right word — from the White House than Barack Obama had headed for that usual get-away-from-it-all haunt of the rich and famous, Necker island in the Caribbean.

Except that while on Necker you can get away from almost everything, you can’t get away from owner Richard Branson.

Obama is pictured larking about in a boat with Sir Rich looking, frankly, like a bit of a plonker.

Another great PR coup for the Virgin boss.

But for Obama... was it really worth it for the holiday invite?

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