In view of the recent general election results, in which the country apparently voted to trash everything good about our society in favour of US-style “me first” crap, it struck me as timely that I recently had my first experience of privatized diagnostic testing. Even better, I have previously had this particular test before, provided in a good old-fashioned overcrowded NHS hospital.
My health has not been what it should over the past month, for reasons which the doctors have mostly described as “eh, keep resting, maybe you’ll get better. Next!” Amongst other (so far fruitless) diagnostics, I had to go and have an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. A few years ago, when a change in contraception caused some truly alarming symptoms which, hey, went away when I changed again, I had to have the exact same scan. So, I thought I’d compare and contrast.
When I was sent for a scan in a hospital, I received a very precise letter, telling me where to go, who to report to, and exactly what would happen. It was accompanied by a handy leaflet telling me all about the facilities of the hospital, and particularly mentioning that it’s hard to park there and all patients are recommended to get the bus.
The third party diagnostics company also sent me a letter. I had the same instructions about consuming a bunch of fluids beforehand, but no information about the clinic apart from the address. As I would later discover, the surgery where the clinic is located does not allow people who aren’t their local patients to use their car park, which meant I had to drive around the area looking for somewhere else, and then hike back – less than ideal when you’re feeling peaky.
The ultrasound diagnostics department at the hospital had a good reception. I got lost on arrival at the site (my fault for getting off the bus too soon), but a friendly doctor helpfully pointed me in the right direction. I couldn’t fault the care while we were waiting to be seen, either – these sorts of scans require you to have a very full bladder, and a nurse kept popping to check that we were all ok and bump people up the queue if they were struggling.
The clinic was just awful. I arrived on site, passing several unfriendly signs saying that anyone using their car park who wasn’t one of their patients would be fined. The receptionist of the surgery glowered at me when I said I was there for ultrasound and gestured at a door in a corner with an A4 sheet blu-tacked to the door which just read “Ultrasound”. On the other side, I found a small, unprepossessing room with a few chairs, a couple of magazines, and absolutely no staff or signage. I sat on one of the chairs and hoped I wasn’t supposed to announce myself to anyone. The woman at the surgery desk hadn’t taken my name, so I had no reason to believe the hypothetical clinic staff even knew I was there.
Everyone is familiar with the fact that you sit around and wait for healthcare services, and my scan at the hospital was no different. The wait wasn’t too long, as these things go, and the sonographer I saw was reasonably friendly and efficient. I was out of there half an hour after my appointment time. I got the results back through my GP a week later.
To my surprise, the clinic sonographer appeared and called me in dead on time. The test was brisk but, as far as I could tell, thorough, and she let me know that everything was fine right away. Within 10 minutes of sitting down in the waiting room, I was out of there with the all clear.
Winner: third-party provider
In conclusion, for everything apart from the actual test itself, the NHS was definitely better. Based on my experiences, third-party providers do what they’re paid for extremely well. They just don’t bother to do anything else. Personally, I’d prefer to be treated like a human being, even if I have to spend a little longer in a waiting room.