Thursday, 29 August 2013

Going into hospital in the Czech Republic

I had sometimes wondered what the healthcare would be like in my adopted homeland. Would it be as good as the NHS in the UK? As an EU citizen I carry a health insurance card which means that the British Government picks up the tab for emergency healthcare I receive in the Czech Republic, but how easy would it be and would there be lots of extra costs?

In April I was taken badly ill in the Czech Republic with what turned out to be a strangulated umbilical hernia blocking my gut. A friend dialled 112 for an ambulance, which arrived promptly and, watched by concerned neighbours, I was whisked off to Cesky Krumlov hospital. There I was seen immediately by a consultant in A&E, who ordered several tests - CT scan, xrays and the like, again these happened immediately. Within three hours I was being prepped for surgery.

In total I spent twenty-one days in Cesky Krumlov hospital, eleven in the intensive care ward and ten on a general surgery ward, and not once did I find anything that I would complain about. Whilst the hospital is obviously an old one from the communist era and so was not the highest spec, it was spotlessly clean and functional and the medical equipment was modern. My concerns about the Health card proved unfounded. I simply had to show the card and my passport to the ambulance man and the hospital administrator on arrival.

I was struck by the levels of care shown to me and other patients, especially on the intensive care ward. Staffing levels per patient are higher than those in the UK and so the nurses weren't running around the way they do in Britain and had time to care for you. On one occasion, when I was in pain and distressed, a nurse sat with me and stroked my face. It's hard to imagine British nurses having the time to do that.

The Czech nurses seemed to have been trained to speak softly, but authoritatively to the patients, which I found extremely calming, even though most of the nurses did not speak English and what Czech I could speak and understand disappeared in a cloud of pain and pain relief drugs. But then the language problem didn't seem to matter - care doesn't need translation. After a few days a sister discovered she could use Google Translate on her phone and so soon we were communicating with ease. Most of the doctors did speak at least some English and the consultant spoke it well. The one Czech phrase you need to know is "Boli me..." which means "I have pain...", then finish the phrase with pointing at the place that it is hurting.

As I said to my husband the place felt like a British hospital used to, before the administrators started walking round with clipboards and stopwatches, when patient care came first ahead of cost-cutting. This sense that I had slipped back to my childhood, when I had several stays in hospital, was reinforced when one of the nurses brought in a small radio tuned to a programme that played English-language pop music from the 1960's. The first time this happened I was so out of it, that the music merged into my hallucinations, but the second time I was amused to find myself to Billy J Kramer's song "Little Children", which I had loved as a child, and grateful to the nurse for thinking of me lying in my bed surrounded by the Czech language.

Breakfast was bread rolls with jam and fruit and sometimes cake, supper was similarly simple and monotonous: soup, bread rolls with cheese or pate. But lunch was usually superb. It was cooked on-site and consisted of a soup, and main course of typical Czech food, such as goulash, svickova, beef in pepper sauce. In the general surgery ward we ate together in a dining room, which allowed me to chat to fellow patients. I paid a grand total of 100 crowns (£3.30) a day for board and lodging. I could easily pay twice that for a lunch of a similar standard in a restaurant.

Thanks to the staff of Cesky Krumlov hospital I am now fully recovered and feeling better than I have done for years. I am now totally confident of Czech healthcare, so much so that I think I was probably lucky to be taken ill in the Czech Republic rather than the UK.  

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