By Olivia Hanna
On Friday 30 August at 12:30pm, I was in pain and discomfort, upset, confused, and in desperate need of a doctor. This wasn’t the first time I’ve been in that position, so I knew what was wrong with me. I had a urinary tract infection that could be remedied with a simple course of antibiotics.
Since I was in pain and needed to be seen as soon as possible, I couldn’t wait for the Student Health Unit to open. Even if I could, they were still exclusively seeing postgraduates, and I am an undergraduate.
I called WestDoc with the hopes that they would be able to see me swiftly and give me the treatment I needed so I could get some rest that night. When I called WestDoc, they referred me to the out of hours emergency number listed on the website for the Student Health Unit.
Calling this number was a great disappointment. The doctor on the other end of the line was short and sounded inconvenienced by my call, to say the least. I explained my situation to him, even though he didn’t care to ask the reason for my late night call, to which he responded; “Well it’s a bit too late for that love.” He refused to talk to me, and didn’t even make a suggestion as to what I could do to ease my pain.
Close to tears I called WestDoc a second time, to which they told me to follow the other doctor’s advice. I told them he hadn’t given me any. When I asked again if they could see me they said they don’t see students at all. I felt crushed and pleaded with them to let me come in. I would pay what they needed; I just had to have antibiotics. Again they said they simply don’t treat students.
I only had one option left, one that I had been avoiding due to previous experiences. I had to go to A&E. When I made the decision to go I already knew what my night would look like; my bloods were taken and I provided a urine sample, I had a needle in my arm for 6 restless hours, and when I was finally seen by a very kind doctor I was told what I already knew. I left A&E tired, still uncomfortable, with my prescription and a hospital bill of €200.
While I eventually got what I needed, I felt unsettled by the experience and there were a few questions I wanted answers to. Why wouldn’t WestDoc see me, are students second-class citizens? Was my concern a true emergency warranting a call? Is this the type of out of hours care we should expect to receive?
I decided to investigate this myself, to ease my mind and to help other students who someday may be in a similar position.
I first called WestDoc to understand their policy against providing care to students. “We are funded by the HSE to take care of patients of our member doctors,” explained the WestDoc representative. “It’s a co-operative so the doctors have to buy in to become members. We have been assured that all the students at the colleges are best served by their own doctors.”
Next I turned to the services facilitated by NUI Galway. I called the Student Health Unit and learned that they pay to be serviced by local GPs, though I couldn’t get the names of any of the doctors.
I decided to go the health unit and speak to Medical Director of the Student Health Unit Fionnguala Lysaght. I explained my situation and she reassured me that I did everything correctly, and that the GP who took my call should not have responded the way he did, since the pain I was in did warrant medical attention. She apologized profusely for my experience and proceeded to check up on me to make sure I was okay.
While I can’t re-do the night I had in A&E, I feel better knowing that my experience wasn’t average, and that someone was willing to apologize to me and inquire about my health.
In situations such as this one, I believe that it is important to seek help and to demand the medical attention you need. Health is so important, whether or not you are ‘simply a student’, and no one should refuse to give you the help you need.
However, I am put at ease knowing that people like Dr Lysaght truly care about the wellbeing of every student.
Photo by Sulmac at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons