Liam and I registered with our local GP practice. The serene surgery is a far cry from the NHS bedlam we left behind in inner city Walthamstow. Natural politeness reigned supreme and you could hear a syringe drop in the waiting room. The entire process took no more than ten minutes. I have wobbly legs to check and periodic limb movement disorder to re-diagnose so I booked my first appointment. I was greeted by a smiley Germanic quack who listened intently to my dancing calf story and examined the test results I had shipped over from Turkey. She checked my blood pressure. “A little high,” she said, “but that’s because I’m a scary doctor.” We laughed. “Best we re-do the tests,” she continued. I’m booked in for a fasting blood test in a few days and I’ve been given a home blood pressure kit to check the numbers every waking hour on the hour for the next week. I suppose I’d better cut down on the sauce a bit. Frau Doc has also referred me to a consultant cardiologist for an arterial MOT. Apparently, I book the appointment online. I have a sneaking suspicion that Teutonic efficiency will cut through the NHS flab like a hot knife through butter.
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NHS Treatment for Repats
I recently tuned in to a debate on BBC Radio Norwich. It was about immigration, something of a national obsession in Britain. Some of the comments were intelligent and thoughtful, others were plain stupid. It made me think. How is it that, in general, relatively rich people from the West who move abroad are described as ‘expats’ whereas relatively poor people settling in the West are classed as ‘immigrants’? Perhaps this is because ‘immigrant’ is a dirty word these days, laced with nasty undertones of freeloading and coloured by thinly veiled racism. The threat of the UK or anywhere else being swamped with lazy foreign devils sponging off the state and plotting a new world order is a tad exaggerated in my experience. Where would the National Health Service or the care sector be without imported labour? It’s also worth bearing in mind the United Nations of young people who greet the commuting worker bees of London at the Pret a Manger* counter each morning are there because they’re eager, committed and willing – not a scrounger among them. This is an attitude that some British youths would do well to emulate.
The smug, self-congratulatory term ‘expat’ does have more than a hint of the British Raj about it (or any colonial raj come to that) – people who move away for a sea-view room or a tax-free dream job but who maintain their cultural and language separateness in various expat ghettos across the globe. The word also suggests a sense of impermanence. Interestingly though, many foreign nationals I know in Turkey have no intention of moving back to their home countries. Some have even acquired Turkish citizenship (though I suspect few have relinquished their original passports. It pays to have a plan B, just in case). If expat life is transitory does this mean that immigration is permanent? This doesn’t explain the huge influx of Poles who moved to Britain in the 90’s looking for work, many of whom have since moved back to Poland because the work dried up. They are called immigrants (and less savoury words by some). Clearly, quite a few have no wish to stay longer than necessary. Perhaps it really is all to do with the filthy lucre.
It’s certainly true that expats tend to be more financially self-sufficient than those who move in search of a better economic life, but nothing is that simple. In Turkey, plunging interest rates in recent years have presented quite a fiscal challenge to those trying to maintain a hedonistic lifestyle on dwindling assets. I wonder how many will survive? In the end, some may have to head home anyway, kicking and screaming. Expat? Immigrant? You say tomayto, I say tomarto.
*Pret is very successful British coffee and sandwich chain. I recommend their breakfast baguette – delish!
Now that I’m officially old and hobbling towards my dotage, I was somewhat relieved to discover that I’ll be entitled to free NHS treatment as soon as we touch down in Blighty. I will just have to pay the standard charges since I won’t be claiming benefits. This has been confirmed by an NHS website. It says:
If you move to the UK, you will not be charged for NHS hospital treatment from the date that you arrive, as long as:
- you intend to live permanently in the UK, and
- you’re legally entitled to live here on a permanent basis
This information was further corroborated by the British Consul in Izmir at a recent meet-the-emigreys beano in Altinkum. He said:
The UK NHS authorities had said that a British resident living out of the country for more than six months loses their right to the NHS but that right is instantly re-installed if they return.
So, no pretending I was never away and hoping for the best. Nor will I have to wait six months before re-registering with a GP. Maybe the rules changed when I wasn’t looking. Marvellous.
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I’ve had an MOT at a local private hospital five minutes walk from the house. I thought it would be wise before re-entering the well-meaning but labyrinthine world of the National Health Service when we return to Blighty in a few weeks. It was prompted by a sudden and unexpected rise in my blood pressure. I used to be troubled by hypertension before our exodus but after entering Turkish airspace my blood pressure reverted to normal levels and stubbornly stayed there despite my lifestyle addictions.
Recently though, the bloody thing has been on the rise again and I’ve developed some difficulty walking anything more than a short hop. Hills in heels are a nightmare I can tell you. Like most men, I ignored it – until Liam nagged me into submission. After a determined and relentless campaign of drip-drip harrying, I conceded and made an appointment. I can report that the experience was easy, fast and efficient. A wonderful northern lass employed to guide witless foreigners ferried me around the system and smoothed the waters with tact and smiles.
The outcome? The good news is that my ticker (and wait for it) liver and lungs are all in fine form. I nearly fell off the back of my chair when the nice cardiologist told me that. The bad news? My cholesterol levels are through the roof, my blood pressure is way too high and I have developed Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. I’ve been called disordered many times before but not because of my limbs. Essentially, my brand new condition causes my calf muscles to spasm involuntary when I sleep and it’s the nocturnal workout that causes the pain when I mince about town. After the diagnosis, Liam stayed awake for nights on end to check what was going on. Apparently, my calves throb so regularly, you could run a clock with ’em. And there was me thinking I was just kicking him out of bed to make my morning cuppa or rehearsing for a spot on Riverdance.
I’ve always wondered why I have the legs of a Premier League footballer and the belly of an armchair fan. Now I know. The cardiologist put me on drugs to control the rhythmic twitching. Liam put me on a rolled oats regime for my cholesterol. He calls it porridge. I call it cruel gruel.
What does this all mean? Simple. I am now officially old.
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