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Health - A to Z:
An Insider's Guide to BRITISH HEALTH CARE!



With the help of the National Health Service web pages we have compiled a guide to some of the most important elements of The British Health Care system. The links provide you with more detail.

For activities using this item prepared by Edyta Bracik, a teacher trainer from Radom, go to Health System Issues - classroom materials.

A is for ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE which is a variety of forms of health care such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, iridology or aromatherapy that are normally considered outside the official health sector and which are not generally regarded as part of conventional treatment. However, in response to their growing popularity many of them are becoming available on the NHS.

B is for the BEVERIDGE REPORT, the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services prepared in 1942 by a committee headed by the economist William Beveridge (1879 - 1963) which led to the 'welfare state' being created. You can follow the full history of the NHS on the NHS site.

B is also for BUPA, the British United Provident Association; an insurance association providing financial cover for private medical treatment for regular subscribers. Now about 11% of the UK population have private medical insurance, compared with 2% in 1961, and the private sector carries out 20% of non-emergency surgery.

C is for COMMUNITY CARE. Community care enables people to live in their own homes or in small residential units with support from visiting nurses, social workers or volunteers rather than in large institutions, such as hospitals. It is nowadays generally agreed upon that institutional care is often not only expensive but may be damaging to patients' psychological well being.

D is for DIET, now recognised as a major factor contributing to good health. This works through both suggestions for eating healthily, and the dangers of dieting. It is estimated that of the 40% of British women who are at any time trying to diet, 98% of them will not only regain any weight they lose, but also put on more.

D is also for DISTRICT NURSE, a trained medical nurse who gives care and treatment to people in their homes especially those with young children and babies and who covers a particular district in the town or country.

E is for ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, whereby local Councils attempt to control elements in the physical environment which might harm health, such as the condition of food premises, noise, smoke, air, and so on.

F is for FUNDING FOR THE NHS, which requires about £50 billion per year (approximately £790 per head). The vast majority of this (over 80%) comes directly from taxes.

G is for GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING, an official warning that must by law appear on all tobacco products and advertisements in Britain (and in Poland). It usually tells the 28% of the UK population who buy the products: "Cigarettes can seriously damage your health". Cigarette smoking is associated with around 120,000 premature deaths each year in the UK, and as such is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and death. Alarmingly, statistics suggest that over 30% of 16-24 year olds in the United Kingdom are smokers.

G is also for GP, in full GENERAL PRACTITIONER; sometimes called family doctor (in the Polish newly reformed health care system "lekarz rodzinny" or "lekarz pierwszego kontaktu"). There are over 35,000 GPs in the UK who have, on average, 1,900 patients each registered with them. GPs, like those featured in our questionnaire, make a diagnosis when the patient visits them and then decide on the treatment necessary, which might include referral to a specialist.

H is for HEALTH AUTHORITIES, which were recently reorganised to create 100 unitary health authorities in England and 5 in Wales, 15 health boards in Scotland and 4 health and social services boards in Northern Ireland. Theses authorities are responsible for identifying the healthcare needs of the people living in their area and the ones in England each serve a population of approximately half a million people. Details of their new responsibilities can be found on the link to the NHS site

I is for INEQUALITIES IN HEALTH, whereby death rates and the prevalence of major diseases are higher, according to class, income, region, and ethnic background. The government campaign, 'Our Healthier Nation', is aimed at tackling these inequalities.

J is for JEROME K. JEROME, an English writer, (1859 - 1927), best known for his humorous novel "Three Men in a Boat" in which he wrote about the dangers connected with reading medical encyclopaedias or handbooks. (Hopefully, this Health A to Z will not have the same effect on you!) As soon as one of Jerome's characters in "Three Men in a Boat" indulges in studying a thick medical handbook, he begins to suffer from all possible symptoms of various kinds of serious diseases. He then goes to a doctor who writes him a prescription. However, the pharmacist refuses to provide the prescribed medicine which was the doctor's sensible piece of advice:"Have a pint of beer and stop reading medical books which you can't possibly understand". It is undoubtedly one of the funniest passages on hypochondriacs in English literature.

K is for KING'S COLLEGE HOSPITAL, a large teaching hospital which is part of London University. Teaching hospitals are an important part of the system of training doctors.

L is for the LANCET, a prestigious weekly journal for doctors and members of the medical profession. It was first published in 1823. It is widely read all over the world, including Poland.

M is for MEDICINES, which we take when we are ill. As well as the pills and tablets we are familiar with, there are also lots of traditional remedies for illness which are passed down through generations. Have a look at some traditional Polish and British remedies we have collected in this issue.

N is for the NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE which has provided a comprehensive, largely free medical treatment for the whole of UK population for over 50 years. While it is sometimes the source of complaints from frustrated patients, it is nevertheless an indispensable element in the British Health Care system. One of our feature articles looks at the current debate over the NHS. It is responsible for most of the country's hospitals, doctors and medical services. It is funded from national taxation. There have been major reforms in the NHS recently, and in particular in the structure of the NHS as a consequence of devolution to Scotland, N.Ireland, and Wales.

N is also for NURSES, who make up nearly half the workforce of the NHS, and who are often thought to be underpaid and overworked. There has recently been a joint Polish/British project to implement a new three-year curriculum for training nurses.

O is for ORGAN DONORS, an issue which has been much in the news lately, as another of our feature articles illustrates.

P is for PRESCRIPTION CHARGES, the money paid for medicine supplied on the National Health Service. Currently about £six, this is a fixed sum for all medicines. It is usually less than the actual cost. There are numerous exemptions to prescription charges, and some 80% of prescriptions are dispensed free to people on low incomes, children under 16, pregnant women, and people over 60.

Q is for QUALITY, something all health systems should strive to provide. To see if the Polish and British systems are succeeding, look at our interviews with the users of the systems in The Patient's Views.

R is for RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, on which over £400 million is spent per year. One area of research which is currently attracting much attention is that of genetic food, and one of our feature articles looks at the debate surrounding this, which even Prince Charles has had a say in.

S is for SICK NOTE, the doctor's certificate which is the statutory requirement for periods of absenteeism of 7 days or more. In practice many employers ask for a sick note for periods of absence from work under the 7 day limit, although the NHS is trying to discourage this, as it puts a huge strain on GPs. Providing sufficient National Insurance contributions have been paid, statutory sick pay should be paid for up to 28 weeks of illness in any sick period.

S is also for SCHOOL HEALTH, a major priority of the Health Education Authority, who have set up web sites as part of their Healthy Schools Initiative. Among these are Wired for Health and Mind, Body, and Soul.

T is for TRUSTS, which are part of the NHS Reforms and which provide hospital and community care for millions of people.

U is for UPDATES, which in the world of Health are always happening. We have collected some of the more unusual Health items to make the news in our News Update.

V is for VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS, of which there are over 1,000 involved in health care in the UK, such as the Samaritans, Oxfam, and Barnados.

V is also for VITAMINS, and you can find out what vitamins we need, and which foods they are in, by visiting the NHS site http://www.nhs.uk.

W is for the WELFARE STATE. Generally this term refers to a system by which the government of a country assumes responsibility for protecting and promoting the welfare of its citizens in such areas as health, income maintenance, unemployment, and pensions. In Britain the term applies mainly to the National Health Service, National Insurance and Social Security. In view of the ageing population and an increasing portion of the national budget necessary to cover the cost of the welfare services the idea of the Welfare State has been strongly criticised especially by those who believe that welfare provision decrease self-reliance and freedom of choice. This issue is also debated hotly in Poland.

W is also for WAITING FOR TREATMENT, perhaps the most contentious issue in the NHS at the moment.

X is for X-RAY therapy, medical treatment using x-rays, i.e. invisible electromagnetic radiation discovered by the German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895. Test yourself on other medical breakthroughs in one of our quizzes.

Y is for YOGA, system of exercises for the body and the control of breathing for those who want to become fitter.

Z is for zzz! This is the noise you may make while sleeping and dreaming. Sleep and dreams seem to be essential for our health, but perhaps not the sort carried out in another of our quizzes, Maturzysta's Daydreaming.


Produced in Poland by British Council 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.