Saturday, October 06, 2007

Reality Check


Yesterday, after Radiotherapy at Harley Street, I made my way up to hilly Hampstead to the Royal Free hospital.

For the uninitiated, and non-Londonders, Harley Street is the preserve of private healthcare, with clinical facilities disguised as smart Georgian townhouses. The Royal Free is a large NHS-run hospital, funded by public money and a huge, sprawling, lino-floored, wide-corridored, teeming with all walks-of-life operation with rips in the seats and no magazines to read while you're waiting. Harley Street Clinic's waiting rooms are always full of Country Life magazines which still carry a portrait of some aristo's shiny young daughter, pearl necklace almost hidden beneath her cashmere cardigan, a tradition left over from the days of real debutantes.

I was in the non-private Royal Free to privately see a dermatoligist. So after 10 minutes of waiting in the public area, I decided to offer my healthcare authorisation codes to the guy manning the dermatology clinic's reception desk.

"Do you need these codes? They're from my healthcare provider and they are to cover any of the costs of today's appointment."

The guy looked blank and then the penny dropped.

"You're a private patient? If you're private you're in the wrong place. You need to go round the corner to the Lyndhurst Rooms and wait there."

Confused, I hoisted up my bags and coat and wandered round the corner and found a door marked 'The Lyndhurst Rooms'.

I walked in to a different world. The lighting changed from fluorescent tubes to soft, muted lighting. The walls were wallpapered in some shade of apricot. The chairs did not have rips in them. There were flowers in vases. There was a water cooler. And there were copies of Country Life in the magazine rack.

Isn't it bizarre that essentially all private medicine comes down to is a more comfortable environment to wait in? You see the same experts, get access to (mostly) the same drugs, but as long as you have a comfy chair, a water cooler, and subdued lighting, you're on private.

Having said all that, I picked up one of the few non-Country Life magazines I could find. It was an issue of Wallpaper magazine. I leafed through the features, looking at the uber-design freaks and style pieces with a mounting sense of unease. There was something not quite right about it. Then I saw the cover date. It was an issue of Wallpaper dated Oct 1997. It was ten years old! No wonder the magazine's styling looked slightly off.

So having been feeling guilty all morning for benefitting from my work private healthcare scheme, I suddenly felt slightly short-changed.

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