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Differences in ER Visits Between US and UK From an American Mom


  • When we were visiting friends in London, my daughter had an asthma attack caused by allergies.
  • My friends helped me navigate the UK health system, and we ended up in the emergency room. 
  • Our visit was friendly and incredibly efficient.

My daughter has allergy-induced asthma. That means sometimes when she’s around an allergen, each breath is marked by a wheeze.

She has a rescue inhaler for these episodes. Two quick puffs and her breathing returns to normal. 

Shortly before our trip to London to visit friends, her inhaler broke. I asked the pediatrician for a new one. The pediatrician said I’d need to bring her into the office the next time she was wheezing if I wanted a refill. I didn’t want to wait for an episode. I said that what I needed wasn’t a refill because the broken inhaler still had doses. The argument went in useless circles.

We went to London without an inhaler. My daughter has very few asthma attacks in a given year, and the risk felt nearly nonexistent.

Of course, it wasn’t.

The friends we were visiting had a dog, and an allergy pill wasn’t enough to control her symptoms. My daughter had an allergy-induced asthma attack in London — on Easter Sunday. 

I called her pediatrician back in the US

My first step was to call my pediatrician in America. I left a message with the answering service and never received a call back.

Our friends in London helped us navigate the UK medical system, which initially seemed more complicated than the US system. Physicians are general practitioners, pharmacists are chemists, and urgent-care centers aren’t as easy to come by.

We called the single pediatric urgent-care center in the area — closed for the holiday. We called all the private doctors who populated our Google search — also closed. The only option was the one I had hoped to avoid: the emergency room.

I’m familiar with emergency rooms in the US. During my husband’s battle with brain cancer, we visited them frequently. There are a few constants — the endless forms, the long hours waiting for tests, results, and treatment, and the expense.

We ended in the ER

My daughter and I took a taxi to the emergency room, known in London as “accident and emergency,” or A&E. The receptionist took our names, asked my daughter’s age, and had me write down my home address on a sheet of paper she ripped from a notebook.

After a few minutes of waiting in a brightly colored room, we were brought into an exam room. A nurse asked us questions and examined my daughter. The doctor looked at the photo I had taken of my daughter’s inhaler, which had the name of her medication and how many doses were left when it stopped working.

By this point, her breathing had returned to normal. I knew this reprieve would be short-lived and that the minute we returned to the dog, she’d be wheezing again. I prepared myself for another argument with medical professionals. No argument came. Even though they didn’t hear wheezing, they believed me and my daughter and agreed she needed an inhaler.

They monitored her. At some point, a nurse brought her a chocolate Easter egg in case she was hungry.

We walked out of A&E, inhaler in hand, after an hour. Only once we were standing on the sidewalk did I realize how different the experience was. There’d been no clipboard stacked with forms, no unnecessary tests. They’d even given her a snack.

Every moment of our emergency-room visit was efficient, patient-friendly, and starkly different from every other emergency-room experience I’ve had.

For the rest of the trip, my daughter used the inhaler as directed, avoided the dog as much as possible, and enjoyed the trip of a lifetime.



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