Leading The World

We did not move to Spain to benefit from the healthcare system, but it is one of the ‘extras’ that we have become aware of. For instance, I have a thyroid condition and I suffer from Type 2 diabetes; for each of these I need daily medication which is organised by means of a trip to my doctor twice a year. He prescribes six months’ supply, entering the prescription on computer and printing off a copy for me so that I can see when I will need to ask for a renewal. In my wallet I have a green plastic card complete with microchip and each time I need more of a particular medication, I present the card at the pharmacy, the assistant inserts it in the reader and gives me another pack. I say ‘the pharmacy’ because it is about three minutes walk away here in the village, but I can collect my medication from any pharmacy in Andalucía under this system (possibly from any pharmacy in Spain; I’m not sure of that).
Appointments to see  doctor or the practice nurse are always available within a maximum of 48 hours, except at weekends, either by dropping into the health centre or by booking an appointment online, and any follow-up examinations by specialists are quickly arranged. For out of hours needs, there is a walk-in centre in Nerja, six kilometers away. Moreover, my medical records really are my records. My bloodtest results are printed off for me as well as being stored on computer, so that I can see at a glance how my diabetic control is being maintained from one test to the next. Likewise, If I need x-rays, they are given to me and I, in turn, show them to my doctor, who returns them to me when he has examined them; any reports from specialists are also printed off for me.
All of this is very impressive, but I have just been reading of another potential healthcare benefit, though one I hope never to have to take advantage of. Spain, it transpires, is the foremost country in the world in the provision of transplant surgery. Not only is the rate of organ donation high - in 2010, in a country of approximately 40 million people, 3,773 transplant operations were carried out - but the speed with which transplants are available is equally impressive. According to the aricle which I read in El Pais, liver transplants are carried out within four months on average, lungs within five to six months, and hearts within only two months. The longest waiting time is for kidney transplants, at between twenty and twenty four months.
I don’t gloat when I hear of the problems people face accessing treatment in the UK, but I do feel extremely fortunate to have found myself by chance served by such an excellent system.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Over the weekend I learned from a Spanish TV programme that Andalucía leads Spain in transplant surgery. How lucky is that!


Home Thoughts From Abroad

In my late twenties I joined the then Liberal Party and continued to support the party through its merger with the Social Democrat Party, right up to the day that I left England to live here in Spain. Throughout the whole of that time political power continued to elude us by a substantial margin in Westminster elections, although there was a progressive growth in power at local government level. I was delighted last May to find that we held the balance of power, and in due course formed part of a coalition government. Moreover, a few moment’s consideration of the comprehensive defeat suffered by Gordon Brown’s New Labour government made it obvious to me that a coalition which returned them to power would quite rightly provoke outrage amongst the major part of the electorate. So, despite the fact that I would place myself to the left of centre in the party, I accepted the logic that a coalition with the Conservatives was the most appropriate outcome.
It was from this position that I observed the recent by-election campaign in Oldham East & Saddleworth, where the Lib Dems had come so close to winning at the general election. Looking from the outside, I was mainly struck by how detached from reality so many political activists had become in the past nine months. From political commentators in the media I learn that large numbers of Lib Dems have deserted the party in favour of Labour. Why, for God’s sake? Apparently because certain key Lib Dem policies have been dumped in forming the coalition. At the same time, of course, many Tories declare themselves let down by the coalition’s failure to enact the red meat of their manifesto.

The Tories  can argue that one among themselves, but to my fellow Lib Dems I would just make a couple of points (or maybe three), that bear consideration. Firstly, I would draw their attention to the fact that if the outcome of the general election had followed the pattern of the last seventy years, not a single Lib Dem policy would have been enacted, because, as for the past seventy years, the Lib Dem MPs would all have been seated in their customary places on the opposition benches. We could have trumpeted our principles and our policies until we were blue in the face - to absolutely no avail. Forming part of a coalition government on the other hand means that we have seen a string of important Lib Dem policies either already enacted, or scheduled for legislation during the course of this parliament.

Secondly, I would point to the outrage felt by the right wing of the Conservative party at the loss of some of their favoured policies. Those policies have been lost because, and only because, a Lib Dem presence in government has killed them off. So that’s two wins to chalk up this time around.

And my maybe third point? Grow up. In the real world (as you well know in the non-political spheres of your personal life) you cannot have everything you want; at least you no longer have to settle for nothing. Build on that start, unless you feel happier on the opposition benches with Ed Miliband and co.


Los Reyes Magos

Today for Spanish children is the equivalent of Christmas Day for British children; the day that the presents magically arrive overnight. So yesterday evening all the children were out on the kerbs awaiting the arrival of the Three Kings, bearing gifts.
Their procession was due to set off from the street close to our home at 5.00pm, led by the town band. The town band duly arrived at about 5.25, stood around chatting for a while and then formed up into some kind of order. Satisfied that things were about ready to start the member of the Policía Local, donned his crash hat, mounted his bike and roared off to make sure the way was clear. The band struck up and the procession went on its way along all the main streets of the village until it reached the plaza in front of the church, where to the accompaniment of fireworks, the Kings dispensed small presents to each of the children present ( the big presents arrived at home during the night whilst the children slept).
This is not really camel country, so the Kings travelled on mules. Why the plastic bag? you may be asking. Well on the mules are large panniers filled with boiled sweets, and the sweets are hurled into the crowds along the route, scooped up by the children into their plastic bags. A van travels just ahead of the mules, its rear door open so that helpers can grab fresh packs of sweets to refill the panniers en route, so an industrious child can head for home weighed down with a whole bag full of free sweets. I don't know if it's sponsored by the local dentists, but perhaps it should be.
Anyway, this brings Christmas to a close for another year.