“Why are we waiting?” ADVO Group’s Colin Boxall guest writes on his recent visit to one of China’s hospitals


We are told our NHS is the envy of the world. If this is true why don’t other countries copy us? This was the question troubling me recently while sitting in a public hospital in Northern China.

I found my way there after stupidly having breakfast from a man in a cart outside the train station.

Friends urged me to attend the local hospital. It was 11pm and as not seriously ill the thought of spending the night in A&E was less attractive as dealing with illness the English way of putting up with it and sleeping.

Despite my protests I was convinced to attend A&E

This was a revelation.

After arriving just after 11pm at the nearest public hospital (hospital number 8) I was quickly registered and issued a health swipe-card. A couple of minutes later and despite being a non-emergency I was with a Specialist who requested blood tests. Then next door where I put my arm through a window in the corridor for a nurse to take blood. The sample was passed back where two doors down the corridor I passed the sample through another window at the pathology lab. They were very apologetic that it could take 15-20 minutes for results as it was a very busy evening. In reality it was just over 5 minutes before I got the results back before walking the few yards back to the Specialist’s office.

I had to wait a couple of minutes while he finished off seeing another patient but he soon waved me in, swiped my new hospital card to view results. As this showed an infection he prescribed medication via a drip. A nurse collected me & took me to a treatment room. This included a dozen comfortable chairs half occupied by other patients.

Within 20 minutes of walking into the hospital I had seen a consultant twice, had full diagnostics and was receiving treatment. 2 hrs later I was on my way home feeling fit and hungry. On leaving I had to pay 212 yuan for the treatment received, about £23. If I was Chinese I could have claimed back 80% through the state insurance scheme.

The hospital was modern, staff professional and care reassuringly good.

The Chinese go to hospital when they are ill. The attitude is why wait? I am ill so I will get treatment I need now.

In the UK I wonder how long I would have waited if I was lucky not to be turned away from A&E as a timewaster.

So is the Chinese system better? Should we adopt this in the west? The obvious plus is receiving treatment immediately when needed but as ‘free at point of delivery’ is a political red line in the UK no party could consider taking this forward.

But the NHS is not free for many of us. We pay for glasses, dental prescriptions, why not a small contribution to wider services? As with prescriptions exempt the vulnerable and low-paid but ask for a small contribution. This would be attractive to many if the political connotations are removed.

The Doctor in the Chinese hospital paid piecemeal, more people he sees, the more he gets paid. The argument will be that this may lead to poor, rushed service. However I experienced efficiency and immediate care.

In the UK we put up with so much poor service and accept this as normal. We are conditioned to wait & suffer in silence. Receiving quick treatment would remove many sick days and kick start the economy and the health of the nation. Can we really continue to ignore the fact that others may have a better solution?