It’s high time I said something about the German health system. It’s one of those things that Germans seem pretty proud of, but I just cannot get along with. Call me a raving lefty (you wouldn’t be far off the mark), but after a year here I miss the NHS (Britain’s National Health Service).

From first impressions, you would think that the German system is pretty good. You pay more, have a choice of any doctor you want to go to and all the practices are glitzy and staffed by chic, efficient looking people with Colgate smiles.

Then, you try using the system. First, you need to choose a health-care company, then a doctor, then a dentist, then a specialist for x, y and z, then a midwife, then a paediatrician then a …. you get the idea. I’m really confused the the pro-choice agenda in health exemplified in Germany and on the lips of many a politician in the UK. How is Joe Public (or yours truly) supposed to choose between one doctor and another, one paediatrician and another etc etc when there’s no centralised list or comparison information? Can’t we just try and make them all good and have a decent system to complain when things go wrong? Also, can’t my GP refer me to specialist for such and such, or at least give me some information to make an informed decision. So far, these kind of recommendations have consisted of ‘I think such and such might do what you want, here’s a phone number’. My wife had a minor emergency a few weeks back and spent an hour (with a German) phoning round half a dozen different doctors,starting from our usual, to be told they were all on holiday or couldn’t see her. In the end she went to hospital and was told in no uncertain terms that she shouldn’t have gone there. I’m confused as to what else she should have done!

Next, when they have their claws into you, it seems you need to keep going back for more and more. I’m really suspicious that a lot of the appointments we’ve had (including five at a dentist over one tooth) were not really necessary. They are just there either to reassure you that they are doing a good job and you won’t go elsewhere, or else they want the money for seeing you from the health company. There is never any chance of either of those possibilities from the good old NHS (although admittedly dental work can be an exception).

Is there something I’m missing about the German system, am I being an old-fashioned moaning Brit?  Probably. Talking to a well-informed doctor friend of mine, he assures me that a lot of German doctors are over-worked and want to go abroad and that the NHS offers the best value for money and quality of  care anywhere in the world (with the possible exception of Cuba). But then, he’s an old-fashioned moaning Brit too. It’s curious that the system Obama is putting in place in the US is, at least superficially, similar to the German system. That said, imagine the uproar if you tried to build an NHS in the States. I guess each country to its own.

After all that moaning, I’d love to hear if you’ve had a positive experience of health-care in Germany, or anywhere abroad for that matter, or any tips on how to navigate it! Even the locals seem to struggle some of the time…

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