January 19, 2010

UK: There's no place like home when you're ill

. LONDON, England / The Telegraph / Health / January 19, 2010

Even well-established expatriates can feel an urge to return to their home country when illness hits

By Peter Pallot

When you are trolleyed into theatre, and put your life in the hands of a surgeon, being home and near loved-ones counts for something. Research shows that a patient's environment can exert a powerful psychological effect on recovery.

The language barrier posed in a foreign country, even if it is the patient's resident state, can be formidable, too.

65-year-old yoga teacher Lynne Oliver

One expat who needs no convincing of the pull of home is yoga teacher Lynne Oliver. Based in Lanzarote, she feels her respectable Spanish is not good enough. "Every time I'm treated, it costs me an air ticket," she says. "When it comes to diagnosis, it's important to be seriously fluent. You've got to be able to grasp, and express, the nuances of the language."

Mrs Oliver practises mainly therapeutic viniyoga and pursues a healthy lifestyle at her villa. Her clients come from Europe on trips arranged by Holistic Holidays (which is being rebranded Health Change Retreat), a travel firm of which she is a director. After 10 years in the Canaries, she still keeps up a Bupa domestic medical policy costing £2,038 a year.

"Premiums have gone up a lot in the 30 years I've been with Bupa, so I've reduced my cover to a BupaCare plan B, which means I pay a fee per consultation and have to make up the difference if the doctor charges above the Bupa rate.

"I did not go for an international plan because it would cost even more." She considers the four-hour flight to London a price worth paying for private care and the guarantee of no language problem.

"Spanish healthcare is very good, as I found when I got an infection and was at risk of septicaemia. I was on an antibiotic drip for 10 days."

That took place in Lanzarote's only private hospital; in Spain, independent hospitals form a greater part of the healthcare network than in Britain.

"But I still prefer to see my own doctor in England and have treatment there," she said. Mrs Oliver, 65, former wife of F1 driver and 1969 Le Mans winner Jackie Oliver , has had "too much" first-hand experience of medicine. In one incident, a stomach infection by the organism helicobacter pylori, had her on the first plane to Britain.

"The fear levels that go along with certain illnesses are so strong that you need a doctor with a bedside manner that puts you at ease. It's almost as important as the treatment," she said.

"There are delays for treatment here in Spain as with the National Health Service. Time is of the essence. I like to be able to get into treatment immediately. As a yoga teacher, I know the importance of understanding the body, the difference between 'sweet' pain – generally muscular pain – and 'dangerous' pain that needs further investigation. Listening to the body is the essence of what I teach."


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