April 23rd, 2006

politics

Being here

Have been pondering the ups and downs of being here, as I often do. On the plus side, no more wrangling with the NHS. Have been following a couple of medical dramas on my f-list, one person with an eye problem which was eventually (and quickly) diagnosed by going private, another simply trying to get a repeat prescription for the Pill from her local GP but being told she had to wait ten days - I mean, what is that about? Enforcing chastity and continence on young British women? I remember having to argue with the doctor's receptionist in Belfast about whether I was ill enough to deserve an appointment at the end of the following week.

At least here in Belgium, I've never had to wait even 24 hours to see the doctor, and never more than a week to see a specialist. It isn't free at the point of service - you pay about 20 euro per consultation, 80% of which then gets refunded to you - but I think that the defenders of the NHS have fetishised the "free at the point of service" mantra to the point that it obscures the lousy qualities of the free service you get. (And of course the care available to us for our children is way in advance of what we would get in the UK.)

On the other hand, one of the Belgians on my f-list has just been deprived of two months' worth of state benefits due to a bureaucratic slip-up, with, of course, no information given to her about how she might appeal against the decision. My experience with Belgian bureaucracy is that once you threaten them with the ombudsman they cave pretty fast, but only because most Belgians don't even think to do that. The Belgian state services may be efficient and generously funded, but they are also paternalistic and rather inhuman.

There are, of course, other upsides of living here. I went for a good long bike ride in the woods yesterday, as the first step in my spring keep-fit programme. (Must go and do it again once I've finished writing this.) crazysoph came over in the afternoon, which was very nice. (She has written her visit up in much detail on her own journal.) We went out for dinner last night, and then came home and watched Doctor Who (having taped it). And the Sky and Telescope page tells me that if this evening is clear - which it looks like it may well be - we have a good chance of seeing the International Space Station in the southern sky at about 2140. Will report back.