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Frequently Asked Questions - Health

These are a selection of questions from Polish students at NKJO Radom and the University Białystok about the British System of Health Care and Welfare.

  • What do you do when you get ill?

The simple answer to this question used to be go to the doctor, or phone the doctor to come and visit you. On a typical day in England, nearly three quarters of a million people will visit their doctor, or GP, as they are more commonly known (General Practitioner). Nowadays home visits are reserved for the very seriously ill, and patients are being encouraged to diagnose their own illnesses with support from health education pamphlets and even a 24 hour phone service manned by trained nurses. The web site, NHS Direct, also takes you through a series of questions and answers to see how serious your (or your child's) symptoms are. There have recently been suggestions that NHS Direct should also deal with emergency calls.

  • Why are the British so proud of their NHS if at the same time they're so critical about it?

Good question. The answer probably has something to do with the British fondness for self-criticism within an internal (British) audience. But the same people who criticise the NHS within the United Kingdom might well defend it to an external audience. To get a summary of the current debate about the NHS, have a look at one of our feature articles.

  • Is every citizen under the NHS?

Yes. This is one of the founding principles of the NHS from 1948 - a free, comprehensive health service for everyone according to need and regardless of income. If you want to find out more about the history and development of the NHS, you can visit The NHS Story.

  • Is it true that when you're unwell you can simply call your boss and tell him or her over the phone and you don't need an official document (a sick note)?

You do not need a sick note for up to seven days absence from work. After that you do. 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.

  • Do you have to pay for all your medicines and what do you pay the doctors?

Currently prescription charges are about six pounds per item and every day one and a half million prescription items will be dispensed by pharmacies. However, there are so many exemptions to prescription charges that about 80% of prescriptions are dispensed free to people on low incomes, children under 16, pregnant women, and people over 60. There are no fees to be paid to doctors as long as the treatment is under the NHS. If you decide for private treatment, you either pay the doctor yourself or the fees are paid by privated medical insurance companies (11% of the population have private medical insurance). The cost will depend on the type and length of treatment.

  • What do doctors' salaries depend on?

GPs are paid not according to how many patients they see, but according to how many people they have on their list of patients. So it is very much in their interests to promote health education and preventive medicine so that they have large numbers of healthy patients on their lists who are not constantly visiting the Health Centre or surgery! To get British doctors views on this and other issues, look at our interviews with British and Polish doctors.

  • What are the biggest differences between the British and Polish systems of health care?

As both systems are, to varying extents, in a period of transition at the moment, this is a very difficult question to give a short answer to. As well as our survey of Polish and British doctors mentioned above, we thought it would be interesting to get the point of view of Polish native speakers living in the UK, and English native speakers living in Poland, on the health systems of the countries they are currently living in. Look at The Patients' Views to see what they said.

Answers to other questions you might have will probably be found in The British Health and Welfare System or Health- An A-Z in this issue.

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