Canadian / European / Australian Healthcare Horror Stories

We have had a number of threads recently about US health care and health insurance recently where Canadian or other folks with universal healthcare drop in to tell us how wonderful it is in their country. Fair enough. Our healthcare system is certainly nothing anyone would ever have designed on purpose. And it’s been much in the news of late, with many amusing and not so amusing comments from our own citizens.

But I am curious, Dopers with universal healthcare, do you have some rants? Even if you basically like your system, can you drop in and tell us about that one time you had to wait 6 months to get your tonsils out? Do you like your universal healthcare fine, but want to rant about your crushing tax burden?

If the rants achieve sufficient momentum, mods are free to move this to the Pit.

Well there was this one time I went into a walk-in clinic and had to wait about 40 minutes to get seen. Additionally, I probably had to wait up to 30 minutes a few other occasions as well. Stupid universal health care wait times.

Other than that I got nothing.

Our emergency room waits in Calgary are pretty stupid (we had a premier who balanced the budget of the province by cutting healthcare and education to the bone - the results were predictable). A wait at an ER of four to six hours is expected. They do triage, though - if you’re dying, you get seen. If you’re there for an incredibly painful frozen shoulder, you’ll wait a long time.

Elective surgery waits are fairly long, but again, if you have an urgent need, you get looked after (like my husband’s gallbladder surgery a couple of years ago - he went in on Saturday with a serious attack, and his gallbladder was out by the next weekend).

Okay, thought of one - while we were waiting for Jim to be seen when he was having his gallbladder attack, the EMT’s that brought him in by ambulance had to stay with him in the emergency room hallway because there was no staff to take the hand-off. When Jim started barfing from the pain and drugs, I had to clean it up because again, no staff.

I once waited in the emergency ward for 6 hours in Calgary about a dozen years ago. I was in excruciating pain due to, what I found out afterward, gall stones. I had no idea what was happening to me at the time. I kept expecting some alien creature to pop out of my stomach. By the time they looked at me the pain was gone because the stone had passed.

OKay - to start off I have never had a big problem with our healthcare system…


We did have an Aboriginal man die in a downtown hospital Emergency Waiting Room from a bladder infection. From Wikipedia -

Brian Sinclair was a 45-year-old Métis man who was a double amputee with a speech problem. Sinclair was found dead after waiting over 34 hours to see a doctor.

According to the Chief Medical Examiner, Brian Sinclair had a catheter for a bladder problem and his catheter was blocked so he hadn’t been able to urinate for 24 hours. He died from a bladder infection.

No one noticed because apparently it’s common for indigent people to come and “camp out” for a while when it’s cold. This guy was in a wheelchair and would’ve been in excruitiating pain.

Security said after that they tried to get the staff’s attention, but that may just be CYA.

If I recall correctly, no one noticed for a few hours that he had passed away, until someone - not a staff member - took a closer look?

It caused a huge scandal and a bunch of new protocols as far as triage and tracking patients were put in place - I don’t know if any of them will actually work.

It’s pretty well known that the Aboriginal people here face a lot of discrimination, and this is touted as heinous example.

How’s that?

Our system is imperfect and fails people every day. You should have no trouble finding dozens of Australian health care horror stories. I personally don’t have a beef with it, but I have heard of people being shafted by the system. I can’t provide any real detail here because it’s a story I heard as a child (and there’s no one around I can ask to clarify) but my Grandparent’s neighbour’s son had some kind of blockage or tumour or something that had to be removed but wasn’t classified as urgent so he went on the waiting list. He was told by doctors that he would suffer irreversible blindness before he was able to get the surgery, but because it wasn’t imminently life threatening they couldn’t boost him any higher up the list. He didn’t have the money to go to the private system so he just had to hope that somehow he got to the top of the list before he lost his vision. I never did hear the outcome.

Imperfect, but still better than the alternative.

The worst is that when I broke my ankle five years ago, I waited in emergency for four or five hours to get treated. I was triaged immediately and was in no pain, so while it wasn’t pleasant to wait, there was no actual problem. Once they got to me, the care was wonderful.

When my family doctor is away and I have to go to the clinic that covers for him, I have waited four hours. If I used the clinic as my primary health care provider, I would have an appointment. It may come to that when the family doctor retires since there is a real shortage of primary care physicians.

Here is one of the few examples of a true horror story. In Newfoundland, they used a lab to do a test to determine if breast cancer victims had the right genotype to be helped by tamoxifen. Well, the lab was incompetent and over a number of years denied tamoxifen to women who should have gotten it.

Finally, there are waits that can stretch for over a year for what is considered elective surgery. But this could be hip or knee replacement and the patient could be incapacitated or in considerable pain while waiting. But when I needed a pacemaker, that was not considered elective and I got it in a few days.

I spent a year in northern Manitoba working in the hospital there - let me just simply say that Natives earn a lot of the discrimination they face.

wow, what a racist thing to say.

Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say that some give the rest a bad name. The overall problem though is caused by the racist person judging one person based on the actions of other people with similar coloured skin. Unfortunately people have relied on the kind of pattern recognition and assumptions that lead to racism since coming down from the trees. The trick is to recognise when your assumptions are based on flawed pattern recognition.

When I lived in Germany, health care was pretty good but there were problems. You used to get a booklet with sort of “coupons” a doctor would take when you visited. Sounds fair enough - except the doctors only got a set amount from each coupon/visit. Thus, you could go in with blood spurting from your eyeball and he would snatch a coupon, take your temperature and tell you to come back again next week (so he could grab another coupon). Only after he got a couple of coupons after several visits would he take a look at that blood spurting from your eyeball.

OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the point is; they would insist on multiple visits before you ever got a straight answer out of them. I believe that has changed since then, but it was annoying to go to a doctor, knowing you were most certainly going to have to make multiple appointments before any real treatment and/or diagnosis was going to be made - just so they could grab as many of those coupons as they could snatch out of your health plan booklet.

I’m from Germany, but I never heard about any coupon booklets. Did you have public or private insurance?

I think our system is quite good - I have the public insurance, which gets you all care you need with a co-pay of only 10 Euros per quarter that was introduced recently to encourage you not to go to the doctor every time you have the sniffles.
The main difference to private insurance is that you don’t have the right to your own room in the hospital, and no right to get treated by the Chefarzt.
But as my father the nurse tells his patients: Do you want to get treated by the Chefarzt, or the doctor who always does it?

Anyway, some years ago I had low iron levels and some blood in my stool intermittently, which was really difficult to figure out. I had a gastroscopy, a colonoscopy, a CT, an MRI, a camera capsule that travels through you by the long way, and finally a scintillation test that discovered the very rare problem: there was some gastric acid producing tissue in my intestine, which was then removed.

I never had to wait longer than a week for any appointment, the final hospital stay took three days. The (non-urgent) operation was scheduled after the first and completed a day later.

As a student, I pay 45 Euros a month for all that.
For employees, it’s 7,9 percent of income for them, and 7 percent for their employer. There are no “pre-existing conditions” and “maximum payout” shenanigans.

NETA: Private insurance is cheaper than public for people with high income, but it becomes more expensive when you’re old, so you need to save up for that.

I know that in Spain it’s very difficult to get treatment for psychological disorders and if/when you do there is a six-months time limit for non-pill treatments; for some reason rehab is considered a part of psychiatry, so it has the same time limits. A psychologist I know works in rehab and says that in his opinion many people are “almost there” at 6 months but would have been “clean” at 8-9, but they never get the chance. The last time I spoke with him, he was trying to coordinate a system with several NGOs which do rehab, so that patients would be able to start rehab in his center and get transferred to the NGOs later.

The only person I know who is in long-term psychological treatment goes to an out-of-town private therapist, but it’s because she doesn’t want people to know she’s being treated for depression… as you can see, the trick is not working (my mother found out from the patient’s son).

It’s disgraceful that I had to be taken not to the hospital that was in sight, and not to the next closest, but to the next closest after that. The ER’s couldn’t fit me in. On a Wednesday at noon in high summer, so not exactly the busy season for traffic accidents or anything like that. Once I’m at the hospital (Our Lady of Third Choice) I’m placed in a bed that isn’t electric - sitting up on your own is not easy when your abdominal muscles have been cut clean through and you have tubes out the front, back, and both sides - and a room without a wheelchair. You’d think the Grey Nuns Hospital would be up to the late 20th Century at least when it comes to things like that. The food was pretty bad too.

A friend’s son had a grand-mal seizure; the EMT’s came into her house, saw her son, accused her of beating him and started searching her house for drugs. I didn’t know ambulance crews got to do stuff like that.

In my Australian experience it is hard to get an appointment at a free clinic/general practitioner. Instead, these days they tell you to just turn up to the clinic and wait. Sometimes it can be up to an hour before you see a doctor, at least in the poorer, working class areas where I lived. Some of the doctors were quite abrupt.

That is as bad as it got for me. I won’t talk about the nice stuff here.

Humm - I don’t really have one.

If you don’t have an appointment at the lab services place you have to wait for a really long time (3 + hours). However, you can avoid this by making an appointment so that doesn’t really count.

I used to have to pay $40/month for my health care coverage but they did away with that about a year ago so now I pay nothing.

Poysyn’s story is horrifying, but not super shocking to be honest. I’ve been at that hospital when my dad was getting surgery and there are native people sort of abandoned all over the place. Most of them are non-communicative, and immobile in wheel chairs starting about 6 or 7 blocks from the hospital. Honestly, I’m not sure how they get there - I assume they’re dropped off by family members or something (they’re not patients of the hospital).


I sort of missed my point here…

My point was that I think this is more of a social problem rather than a health care problem. Health care providers can’t really be expected to roam the streets looking for patients (although I recognize that’s not what happened in Poysyn’s story).

To be honest I can think of some stories involving long waits for non-urgent surgery, but that is about it.

I’m on the waiting list myself for something fairly minor and have been for the last 11 weeks…to be fair they have called and offered me 4 different dates, but none of them suited (trying to arrange childcare and feeds for an exclusively breastfed infant takes more than 24 hours notice).

For me it would make more sense to be able to book a date 3 months in advance than to wait 11 weeks and be called every few days to offer me surgery on the following day. Obviously YMMV and the current system would work for most people.