Customer services in the life & death scenario

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Sorry for the lack of news of late but we took two weeks out to visit my favourite place – Southern Spain.

We’d gone out there with the joyous but as yet quite secret news that we were expecting a baby.

Sadly, as I have since learned, like so many, many countless others, we lost the baby while on holiday. For anyone who has  been through this awful experience, it is harrowing wherever it happens but it felt doubly dreadful because we were in a foreign land at the mercy of my non-fluent Spanish language skills.

Having international health insurance, as soon as I feared something was up I called my insurance company for advice. They put me straight on to their midwife who said my symptoms were completely normal, that as a first time mother and an older one to boot, these were very common symptoms to be having, not to worry but to call back if I felt things were getting worse.

I was not reassured.

I called my doctor back home who immediately referred me to the local ante natal clinic here in the UK, who in turn said I should see a doctor immediately. So I called back the insurers, who said they would get the name and number of an English speaking doctor locally for me to see and would call me back within 10 minutes.

Meanwhile not knowing how this all works I thought it best to advise HSBC that there might be an abnormally high transaction on my credit card over the next 24 hours as I’d no idea how much a consultancy would be in advance.

Michael, whose surname I wish I’d got, was the most wonderfully reassuring, solid person I’d spoken to. A real credit to HSBC‘s customer services, he put me straight on to their international healthcare people, he gave me a direct number to call if I had any worries whatsoever and said that if I needed their help as opposed to my insurers they would arrange an agent on the ground in Spain to take over the financial ramifications and take that element out of my concern. Without sounding patronising he sounded very young and his genuine sympathy when I told him my reason for calling was lovely. I am sure he’d have moved mountains if I’d asked him to.

Meanwhile the insurance company called back with a number. What is the doctor’s name? Who am I asking for? Well they didn’t have a name just a number of the only English speaking doctor in my area.

I called immediately. It was a firm of solicitors.

I called them back and said I needed another doctor, that they could widen their area to Marbella or Gibraltar – we were equidistant from both. She asked for my email address – I’m on holiday. Yes, and can I have your email address? I’M ON HOLIDAY, I DON’T HAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS, I’M IN SPAIN , IT’S IRRELEVANT. So you don’t have access to email then only we could let you know where to look for a doctor. AGAIN, I AM ON HOLIDAY, NO I DON’T HAVE EMAIL HERE.

(I have since acquired a Blackberry with international roaming.)

OK we’ll call you back with some numbers. If you don’t hear back from us in 10 minutes call us back.

We heard nothing more from them. We never called them back. Nature took over and we just went to the hospital. We had no choice.

To say I’m disappointed with their service is an understatement. It was upsetting enough. My blood pressure, so my husband tells me, was through the roof, good thing I have no understanding of 170 over 120 or whatever it was. Wrong, that’s all I know.

Everyone at the hospital did what they could/should. The nurses and medics were lovely. Sometimes it was hard because while I speak Spanish it’s not technical, medical Spanish. To date the most technical I’d got was , “There’s a hole in my radiator hose!” (Hay un agujero en mi manguito)…. and after a couple of days we returned back to our base to resume what was left of the holiday.

I don’t have the words to adequately describe how phenomenal my husband was.

Being back in the UK and having called the ante natal clinic here, their very probable rationale for how my insurers reacted to the situation was that they wanted to save money and to dissuade me from immediate medical assistance might save them a buck.

I hadn’t got an EHIC card, had forgotten my own social security number in the melee of emotions and had merely thought that as long as my own insurers did their job then neither of those elements would ever be necessary. HSBC had offered to arrange an EHIC card for me. The Spanish authorities, however, were so laid back about payment, that they just said, “go home, rest, take no risks and we’ll mail you with an invoice if necessary.”

So USA – if you’re listening – private health insurance when it really mattered more than ever was dreadfully inadequate! The NHS and European equivalents did more than any private company offered to do. My own bank provided more help than the private insurance company.

Stop questioning Obama’s genuine desire to give you all healthcare regardless of your means. Sign the letter now. In the life and death situation you don’t want to be waiting on a call from an advisor for a doctor’s name and number, you don’t want to be worrying if you can pay, you don’t want yours and the health of those around you dictated by someone who might just be on an economy drive and trained to talk you out of seeking that very medical advice which might make the difference.

This may all sound hypocritical when I speak as someone with private health cover but I have it as a supporting measure to my NHS rights not instead of….and I am sure you could all do the same.

As a footnote and to be fair, the health insurers phoned back my mobile the following day to see how I was but sadly I couldn’t take the call from my hospital bed! I don’t for one minute think they wished the experience upon me but what I’d always imagined to be their service in that scenario was – I NEED HELP – of course Madam, what can we do? Not call us back in 10 mins if you’ve heard nothing.

Amazing Husband/NHS/EU/HSBC 1-0 Private Health Co

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