‘Let me get this straight,’ I said, looking my Slovakian friend in the eye. ‘You are going to go back to your own country because the healthcare here is no good?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Is no good. Is terrible. I leave job and go home and sign on. I get treatment in Slovakia.’ I shook my head like a wet dog as if this might rouse me from a rum sort of surrealist nightmare. But it wasn’t a dream. It was true. My Slovakian friend, who seems sane enough, has decided to leave Britain in search of a better life in Bratislava.
I don’t know her that well, it is true. She’s a friend’s lodger. We have become acquainted over the months she has been living in his house in Surrey and she seems nice enough.
She came to this country some years ago in search of employment — although I’m not sure why because her country is now one of the fastest growing economies in the EU.
But whatever her reasons, she came here, found a job and has been working at a car dealership. Then she became ill with a stomach complaint. She claims, and I can find no obvious reason to doubt her, that she has not received what she would regard as adequate attention from our National Health Service.
Well, look, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? If she says she’s unhappy, who am I to argue with her? If she says the NHS is offering her a worse service than the one she’s used to in a central European emerging economy, she must know what she’s talking about. I cannot argue with the fact that she is packing her bags to go back and use Slovak healthcare instead of the NHS, can I? Because she’s doing it. There is something impeccable about the statement of voting with one’s feet that makes it impossible to argue with.
She was adamant that she was furious about her treatment here. She explained that for months she had been passed from pillar to post and had not been referred to the relevant specialists, and that as a result her condition was worsening, she could barely eat and was in constant pain.
She claimed that a few weeks ago she travelled back to Slovakia and booked an appointment to see a GP in her home town and that he recommended an immediate referral to a particular kind of specialist, suspecting her to be suffering from a most urgent condition. In order to get this referral confirmed, she must resign her job here, go back home ‘permanently’, sign on the dole in Slovakia and enter the system again there. And so she is doing this as a matter of urgency.
I didn’t really know what to say to her, but for some reason I found myself apologising. I found myself issuing a sort of official statement of regret on behalf of British taxpayers everywhere for the parlous lack of service she has received. Well, here we are paying through the nose to fund public services that we can offer free to foreigners and it turns out they are not getting the service we are paying for them to have after all. It’s a blasted cheek.
‘I’m so sorry we have failed you in this way,’ I said. ‘I really do hope you get your problem sorted in Slovakia.’
‘Oh yes, don’t worry,’ she said. ‘They pretty sure they sort it out.’
But that was not the extent of the situation. Not by a long chalk. Because when I told her what a shame I thought it was that she was leaving her new life here, she said, ‘Oh no, I come back. When I am better, I come back to England and get job and live here again.’
Right you are then. And as I chewed on that one, I suddenly thought, ‘Maybe I should be doing the same thing…’
I thought about telling her I could do with some HRT but can’t get it on the NHS because the doctors here say I’m too young and — even though I do technically need it — they can’t prescribe it for my age group. I wanted to ask if she could have a word with her GP in Slovakia and see if he can sort me out. I mean, we’re all in the EU now.
Instead, I decided to have a quick Google session. I soon discovered that Slovakia has an average to poor standard of state-funded healthcare. Emergency hospital treatment is available at any casualty ward but a daily charge is due for inpatient treatment. Some services and medicines are free, but there may be substantial non-refundable charges for complex procedures.
It does sound tempting.
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