English patients dying for treatment in Poland

This might come as a shock to most people in Poland, but apparently Poland has a BETTER healthcare system than Britain.

Poles do complain a lot, and healthcare is one of their favourite subjects to moan about. Quite rightly so, as there is a need for massive improvements and updates. Healthcare financing badly needs to be reformed too. I don’t know whether this makes Poles feel better – but there are places in this world where healthcare is actually worse. One of those places is wealthy Britain. Believe it or not but the British Health Minister visited Poland recently to study and learn from the healthcare system management in this country.

Britain sports a system where general practitioners (Polish: internista) are responsible for the majority of diagnosis and treatment. Extreme cases qualify for hospital. And there is nothing in between. British GPs have to deal with a multitude of conditions, although they cannot possibly have advanced knowledge in all fields of medicine. Many people, therefore, reach specialist treatment only when their condition worsens.

The Polish system is opposite to the British. GPs are often referred to as ‘doctors of first contact’, and wont treat anything more serious than flu on their own. Their main task is to refer their patient to specialists (such as: cardiologists, opthalmologists, neurologists, rheumatologisst, endocrinologists, alergologists, pulmunologists etc.) who work at one of thousands of “Poradnia specjalistyczna” and to gather a patient’s whole medical history. These are the middle link between a GP and the hospital. They diagnose and treat conditions that do not require hospitalisation, and support the further treatment of patients who have left hospital.

What is more, in Britain, patients have to wait up to three days for an appointment with a GP, while in Poland they will be received the same day, or on the spot. Queing for appointments to specialist doctors and for operations in Britain could take years. Although there are some waiting times in Poland, it’s never been that drastic.

Another issue with which the British healthcare has been struggling for years is a problem with staff commitment and discipline. Hygene is poor, which results in severe hospital infections, such as MRSA superbug epidemic. Carers frequently neglect their duties regarding washing and taking care of immobile patients. Inspection bodies have reportedly been ineffective at identifying the wards and staff that have failed. Polish nurses working in the UK have told horror stories. (Disregard for hygene (and other) standards, cases of head lice and scabies left right and centre, staff ignoring patients diet requirements – sometimes with serious consequences, state inspections saying everything is fine, management getting rid of the Polish troublemakers.)

Problems with staff in Poland concentrate around the issues of bribery – either by patients, in order to skip the waiting list, or by pharmaceutical companies and their “incentives” to use particular medications. Doctors and nurses are however usually regarded as well trained, and resourceful – not least becasue they often have to work without the newest equipment available to their Western colleagues.

No wonder Polish people who have relocated to the British Isles are opening clinics for themselves (and for the autochtones). “To provide the level of service that we were accustomed to in our country” – as Jarosław Leszczyszyn, Professor of Medicine at EMC Medical Centre Dublin, puts it.

Not everything is perfect with the Polish healthcare system of course. NFZ, a state agency that signs contracts with hospitals and provides state-funded services to the general public, is being criticised for various policies. In many cases cheaper and older procedures are preferred to be covered, by the NFZ, over more advanced and expensive treatment. For many hospitals the NFZ funding is not enough, and they are deep in debt. But they say no healthcare system in the world is perfect.

Do you agree? Have you been diagnosed/treated in Poland, Britain, Ireland or elsewhere? What are your experiences?

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14 thoughts on “English patients dying for treatment in Poland

  1. 9gods says:

    Well, I have to say that GP in Britain can only do few things:

    – Prescribe pain killers. Which is ridiculus – I want to know what is wrong and to heal, not to forget about pain until next pill. Doesn’t matter what’s the problem, in Britain pain killer is best solution.

    – Say “please come again if condition worsen and we will figure out something”.

    I realize Polish health system is not perfect but I am sorry to say that British one doesn’t help to heal, it “helps” to postpone the problem.

  2. scatts says:

    I do have experience of both health systems although thankfully not for anything critical. In general I’ve had more hospital time in the UK and more serious treatment (but not hospital) in Poland. I only have experience of family healthcare (wives and children) in Poland.

    I think one generalisation is true when talking about everyday illnesses – the UK system tends to stop a little short and the Polish system tends to go too far. In the UK, as you say, there’s a tendency to say “The chances are it is nothing. Go away, take these and come back if it gets worse.”. In Poland there is a reverse tendency to say “The chances are it is a brain tumour or malaria. Do these 18 tests, take these 15 drugs, don’t go to work, come back here every day for two weeks.”. In my experience, neither of these approaches are right. My leaning is towards the shorter approach with less tests and a more optimistic prognosis, which, to be fair to the Brits, is usually where it ends up anyway.

    The things you say about Poland – not waiting for a doctor or treatment, carers not neglecting their duties – might be true of Torun but they for sure are not true of Warsaw. Even with so-called private healthcare there is a wait for a GP who then just passes you off to someone else = another much longer wait with kilka tests in the meantime all at your cost usually. Even if the GP has told you to come back and see the specialist in 2 months, you still have to do the whole GP thing all over again just to be able to do what they told you to do 2 months ago. Quite ridiculous really, and wasting GP’s time when they could be seeing other patients and reducing the waiting time. The queues in the public doctors are even worse and if you want a list of times that this family has encountered Polish healthcare workers who truly don’t care whether you live or die then you’ll have to hold on because it’s really long.

    Poles who move to Britain are not opening clinics to provide a level of “service” but to provide a level of “hypochondriac_ness” that Polish patients are undoubtedly missing and many British patients may well find is to their taste. And to make money, of course.

    Neither system is perfect. I “think” an ideal health service is largely private (but far better run than Medicover) but with enough money coming out of it to fund 1/ a free service for those not able to get the private treatment, 2/ an emergency service for all in need and 3/ the less profitable research that needs to be done and is ignored by private healthcare.

    Not sure what happens in Ireland. I thought a few potatoes soaked in Guinness cured everything? :-)

  3. Jim says:

    Well having lived in Poland for awhile I can tell you what experiences I had with the medical system. My wife has myositis and requires medication to remain in remission. The drugs here in the US and the ones we bought in Poland were the same drug and even the same brand name. However, in the US the cost of the drugs is about $1800 a month in Poland the are $300 a month. So the difference is quite outstanding.
    She also had to have lab tests every three months for blood work. We usually walked into the lab and the test was done immediately. And the cost was around 45 PLN.
    One night my wife had an attack of some sort high BP etc and we went to the hospital in Rypin and she was pout in intensive care. All the equipment to monitor her condition and a 24/7 nurse was in the room.
    She had specialists from cardiology and internal medicine working on her case.
    Turned out is was anxiety and stress and not a heart attack or stroke.
    Again the service was immediate no questions asked.
    Oh and the cost for this stay in the hospital was 850 PLN. She was in the hospital for a day.
    We were not in a large city, Rypin has about 18,000 people in it. We lived about 11km from the town.
    Try that in the US, forms, insurance, waiting rooms. I say the system may have faults and lines but it does work.

  4. Agnieszka says:

    Tell me about it. I live in Britain now and would never move back, but the incompetency of the NHS really grinds my gears. My partner had what we now know was a hernia, and guess what our GP advised him to do. Yep, take a couple of paracetamol. I’m not saying ALL GPs are ignorant and ALL Polish doctors are stars (don’t get me started on Polish dentists!), but it does make you wonder what exactly this person did in medical school and how it was that they ever graduated.

  5. Robert says:

    Have had experience with both (as a private not public patient)

    I will focus on Poland as I malign Poland as much as scatts (probably much more so but usually verbally, we should meet some time scatts!) We use the private Medicover system. It is absolutely outstanding. For a westerner or well paid Pole there is no other way to go in my mind. (there are of course other private groups similar to Medicover that I understand are very good as well).

    I needed to have a neurosurgical procedure done on my lower back 2 years ago – The surgeon is known as one of the top 2 in Poland and has an excellent reputation in Europe. It was done in a Polish hospital that had arrangements with Medicover. I was able to get in easily, have all pre-op tests (MRI’s CAT scans etc) done without wait. The hospital staff loved my continual butchery of their language and could not have been nicer – none of the nurses spoke English but it was not a problem. Everything was clean etc. I was very impressed – REMEMBER IT WAS PRIVATE THOUGH

    In the UK I had to have a ‘well broken nose’ repaired – again Private – great job but the cost was enough to buy a new Mini! If I had been on the NHS the wait would have been days for initial setting and a month or longer for the main event.

    I personally do not have experience with the NHS or Polish public healthcare however my wife shares the problems here and many friends in the UK bemoan the system there.

    Talk a bit about Sweden – seems to work quite well there (but the taxes are high as heck)

    Good topic!

  6. michael farris says:

    Some time ago a Brit co-worker had some (private, self-paid!) medical work done in Britain and their Polish doctor was horrified at the lack of follow up care (including basic preventive measures against infection and other possible post-treatment problems).

    The optimistic “no problem, it’ll work itself out” seems very British and not necessarily the ideal tack for healthcare to take, especially in those cases when it won’t work itself out. It’s almost a guarantee for real health problems to not be treated until they’re near crisis levels and not very efficient.

    The Polish “oh my god, it’s different! tests! tests! tests!” may seem ridiculous sometime but hypochondriacs I think tend to live longer as they’re more likely to catch real problems in time.

    There are real, serious and systemic problems in Polish healthcare, especially for the less well off and it’s easy for foreigners to get a too-rosy picture of the system since they’re almost always treated better than Poles. But it’s also very easy for Polish people to have too-rosy picture of other systems and not realize that _all_ modern healthcare systems are undergoing constant tweaking since as soon as a problem is solved in one area another three have popped up somewhere else.

    But, overall I’m surprised the Polish system works as well as it does (and private care is actually priced for local ability to pay (except for the truly poor) as opposed to US private prices which are priced to pay for the insanely expensive superstructural expenses of healthcare.

    And …. while here, I have to put in a word for Polish dentists. A few years ago I had to have a series of non-trivial treatments (due in part to my dental-phobia caused by an incompetent US dentist who treated me as a child).

    Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of service. True, a friend in the medical field scoped out a good place for me to go to but once there I paid the normal prices. The only weird thing is they always asked if I wanted painkillers. “YES!!!!!!” I would scream “As many and as strong as possible!!!!” The painkillers were an extra charge and … some people do without to save a few zloties???????

  7. guest says:

    … some people do without to save a few zloties???????

    ever heard of vodka ? :D

  8. Radek says:

    I live in the states, but every time I go back to Poland I go back for a complete check-up – teeth, eyes, general etc. Of course its private, but even so its relatively cheap (although not as much as it used to be) and very efficient. I mean for gods sake, my dentist in Warsaw has a medical phd degree from harvard (or some such place)! Just thinking how much you would pay for that level of service in the US, I shiver to think… Ofcourse, Im not sure how the public service is – i think there are long queues, but not as bad as in the UK… And of course, queues beat not having any insurance as is the case for most people in the good old US of A

  9. Richardlith says:

    Greetings all. First comment on Polandian after a few weeks of reading. My experience is with Lithuania, not Poland, but from whatI read on a variety of topics, the countries are so similar in terms of inrastructure, govt, and, most importantly, the attitudes of people to a wide varietty of things.

    Which brings me to healthcare. Scatts hit the nail on the head with his diagnosis of hypochondria in Poland. From my experience, such levels are seen everyone from Germany eastwards. This is a major cultural difference in attitudes to healthcare between Lithuania/Poland and the UK, and from anectotal evidence is a major source of tension in mixed Lithuanian/British families.

    Typically, Lithuanian parent says, ¨Oh my god, I/my child is ill. Take him to a specialist now. Do blood tests, mayhe has pneumonia. Keep him off school and don’t let antone near him.¨ British parent says.¨ I/you/my child has a cough. Take some cough mixture. Of course I/you/my child is going to work/school.¨

    There are different expectation about health and medical professionals. For example, Lithuanians are aghast that doctors in the UK tend not to wear white coats anymore, and express surprise that Britons don’t take food (I mean complete meals with soup, meat and veg) to their relatives in hospital.

    One difference is that there are about twice as many doctors per 1,000 people in Lithuania/Poland than in the UK. There are WHO figures on this, and former Communist countires come out on top in Europe on the number of doctors per 1,000 people, while the lowest is the UK and Ireland. Teh result of this is that there an excess of doctors in most East European countries. Put crudely, there is easier access to doctors in Eastern Europe because there are simply more doctors.

    Conversely, there are more nurses per 1,000 people in the UK than in Poland and Lithuania. This is obvious when it comes to seeing a doctor. Poles are shocked when they go to the GPs in the UK for some minor ailment, and they see the practice nurse, not a doctor. In Poland, specialists do virtually everything, from giving injectons to children to treating minor cuts. Nurses clean the beds and and hand instruments to doctors (I know they do more, but that’s how it appears to the patient like myself).

    Finally,. most comments above concentrate on the experience of care, but the major differences are in how the health system is organised. In the UK, the sacred, Nye Bevin-inspired ¨free at the point of care¨ principle means that NHS administration is a nightmare of allocating funds.

    Finally, Britsh healthcare is on the whole qite differnt in organisation and expectations from Europe because there are hardly any professional links between British and Eurpean doctors. British doctors have close links with US/Canadian/Australian and Angolphone African and Asian countires, (where they all handily speak English and British doctors historically set up the heath system), but few connections with Europe, especially Eastern Europe. Hence there is a major culture clash when British medical staff meet Poles/Lithuanians etc either as patients or colleagues.

  10. […] [Polandian] English patients dying for treatment in Poland […]

  11. Andre says:

    At the beginning of her pregnancy, my wife had some complications and was prescribed female hormones to make sure she didn’t miscarry. After the first trimester, the pregnancy normalized and she’s due to give birth any day now.

    During this period, she read on a forum somewhere that in the UK, women aren’t prescribed hormones to maintain the pregnancy. Apparently, they follow a “survival of the fittest” philosophy and don’t bother artificially prolonging the pregnancy. I found this a bit odd, but this post bolsters my view that the UK system is behind.

    Also, I talked with a Polish dentist once who had spent a short time in the UK and she said that Polish dentistry is ahead of British. Again, I found that odd but this post crystalizes the belief for me.

  12. island1 says:

    Richardlith: Hello and welcome (belatedly), always good to hear a new voice.

    It’s true, the expectation of disaster (which might unkindly be called ‘hypochondria’ in this context) is a massive difference between Poland and the UK (and, apparently, Lithuania). Poles have an enormous and unswerving faith in doctors or other ‘qualified’ people and combine this with a pathological expectation that the worst is bound to happen. Brits are generally skeptical about education (“Seven years at medical school! Couldn’t she just get a job?”) and generally assume that god is on their side.

  13. anglopole says:

    Well, as a parent of two tots I can say the Polish system seems to provide more sense of security and better care for the kids. Children in Poland are seen by paediatricians and every problem is approached with care – I never heard a doc in Poland tell me to just go, buy Calpol and wait until the kid gets better… Any time we visit Poland the boys get a thorough check-up and on a few occasions it was the Polish paediatrician who diagnosed a problem that we later pointed out to a GP here and got a referral to a specialist here (in the UK, I mean)… My older son was born in Poland and he was given a bath right after being born (yeah yeah… I know all about the so called pros for not bathing babies after birth) he was taken care of by the midwives when I was recovering from the c-section… My second son was born in the UK. When I asked the midwives if they could possibly wash him, they told me I could do it myself, which was rather hard after a having had a general anaesthetic and been catheterized… Also, when I asked one midwife to help me change the baby’s nappy, she just shouted at me and told me to get up and do it myself, which (for the reasons mentioned above) was simply not doable for me then… Having lost quite a lot of blood during the second labour too I knew I had anaemia, but, surprise surprise it was me that had to ask to be treated for it… while in Poland it was immediately dealt with and I was instructed what to do when I get home and prescribed drugs to help me get my blood back to normal… In Poland, women can see gynaecologist without asking GPs for a referral and throughout pregnancy women in Poland are being monitored by obstetricians while here it is only a privilege for those who have some complications or had hard labours before… I could go on and on… but a simple conclusion for me is that the Polish health system for some reasons functions better than here in the UK and is more patient-friendly, so to say.
    As for dentists, I’d rather pay 50 quid for a ticket and fly to Poland to have my teeth sorted out quickly and well.

  14. Neil says:

    I’m not too sure about this… I cut my toe last year whist visiting family in Gliwice and had to go to the local hospital a few days later when the cut frustratingly became infected. Lets just say we had to go to the hospital out of hours and the place reminded me of something I would see in the video game (and now a crap movie) Silent Hill.

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