On Monday afternoon, I had an appointment at the eye clinic in Norwich.
I have Glaucoma, and the beginnings of cataracts, so I have been attending eye clinics since I still lived in London. To reduce the pressure in my eyes, I take a twice-daily eye drop of a beta-blocker medicine, called Timolol. I cannot do anything about the cataracts, and they will eventually require surgery.
I drove up to Dereham, and caught a bus into Norwich. The bus travel was free, as I have had a free bus pass since I was 62 years old. That is funded by the government from the National Insurance payments I made when I was working, and I can potentially go anywhere in the UK using it, with no charge at all.
(But only on a scheduled bus, not coaches or trains)
A short walk from the bus station to the clinic, and I was booked in and waiting with other people for the tests. The first one was a conventional eye test, with each eye covered in turn. Following that, I had a ‘Visual Fields’ test, where I had to use a ‘clicker’ to record various lights appearing on a screen in front of me. I then had to wait in a room, until I was called in for the next procedure.
This involves a localised liquid anesthetic, dropped into my eye, and another drug that dilates my pupils. After that takes, I have to sit with my head in a device, as a small brush is moved into contact with my eyeball, measuring the pressure inside as it touches it. I don’t enjoy this part, although it is not painful. And as usual today, the technician had to physically keep my eyelid open with his fingers, to get an accurate reading. That was followed by a painless photograph of the back of my eye, the results looking something like a photo of the planet Mars.
A quick chat followed, and after ninety minutes spent in the clinic, I was allowed to leave, until next year. The results will be sent to the ‘main man’, at the hospital. If he needs to follow-up, I will get a letter.
The point of this post is that all of this was ‘free’, including the bus travel both ways. ( 40 miles, round trip) My lifetime of contributing to National Insurance through my salaries had completely covered the cost, including the monthly eye drops. And even if I had been unable to work, and had never contributed, it would still be provided, free of charge.
This is the NHS, which with all it faults, is still a wonderful institution.
The next time my friends who live in countries without a good healthcare system are thinking about their health insurance costs, and the price of drugs in that country, maybe they should consider campaigning for something similar.