NHS v Medical Aid: A Collaboration with Diary of a Disabled Person

There are a great many cultural divides between the UK and South Africa, and unsurprisingly this extends to disability. With two radically different systems of health care and financial support for the disabled, the lives of wheelchair users in either country greatly differs, as do the social perceptions and stigmas surrounding disability.

UK (Emma Steer, Diary of a Disabled Person).

One of the defining features of British culture, aside from an addiction to Gregg’s bakeries and a general disinterest in the royal family, is the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS allows UK citizens to receive medical aid whenever they need at no cost bar a portion of the tax they pay to the government. Of course, the average citizen has to pay for prescriptions, opticians, dentists, and doctors letters, costs which add up to a surprising total, but this system ensures that medicine usually reaches those who are ill regardless of what is in their bank account.

The NHS is under ever-increasing pressure to diagnose and treat more patients in a shorter time span, with less money and resources to support them, and it’s prominence as a topic on the news is growing every day. The fears that the NHS will either crumble under its own weight, or that it will financially ruin the government have lead the public to bemoan anyone who is deemed a strain upon the NHS, and on more than one occasion, I have been deemed one of those strains.

In addition to the cost of my medical care is the financial support from the government to cover the costs of using a wheelchair, as obtaining a suitable wheelchair on the NHS is a bit like trying to herd fifty cats into a bath at once. Since many assume that I am unemployed the moment they set eyes on me, or rather, my wheelchair, it is assumed that the cost of unemployment support can be added to that total. Even for those who cannot work, the stigma should not be bemoaning the cost of their financial support, but bemoaning the lack of suitable work for the disabled.

All-in-all, the bombardment of news articles depicting disability as a strain on the economy, rightfully or not, has led to a whole new set of stigmas about disability. Instead of being pitiful and patronised for our incapacities, we are despised for the effects of those incapacities. It has even been said by a prominent politician that disabled employees are problematic due to reduced productivity and increased costs of adapting the workspace to suit them, but of course he deems disability to be an inadequate excuse for unemployment, and condemns those that are forced to live that way.

The disabled are simply reduced to a number; the financial cost they inflict upon society.

South Africa (Aidan Bizony, The Disability Diaries).

While I can understand people’s frustration with the NHS because, yes, it has its flaws and we must be aware of those, I still marvel at the concept. Leave aside, for a moment, all the negatives that the NHS presents and look at the concept behind the structure: an attempt by the government to give its citizens a good, if somewhat tedious, medical scheme. South Africa doesn’t have the NHS.

Rather than having a government system that provides good, safe healthcare, South Africa’s public healthcare leaves a lot (I really mean “a lot”) to be desired. To expect South Africa, given her history, to have a medical system on par with the NHS – even in its current incarnation – is perhaps a little naïve and overly-critical but I do feel that we could be closer to the ideal of reliable, sustainable, safe healthcare than we are at present.

I know that the South African system is not necessarily the world’s worst healthcare system but, still, it leaves a lot to be desired. As bad as the public system is, I have to admit that the private system (if you can afford the high fees) is good. Luckily, we’re in a financial position to afford private medical care. As fortunate as it is that we can afford good, reliable medical care in South Africa is, it distresses me immensely to see that our premiums continue to increase with practically no rise in the benefits we receive. When you consider that inflation is a real thing, the fact that the benefits don’t grow in proportion to the premiums is all the more disturbing.

To be honest, the medical aid scheme in this country is increasingly becoming a ‘damned if you do; damned if you don’t’ thing.  But, yes, it costs a lot and it does continues to get worse but at least you get the payments you need, right? Nope. The plan that I’m on (which is one of the highest with the country’s ‘best’ medical aid) has had payments declined that I am legally entitled to. For instance: my plan allows for a certain amount to be made available to me each year for “external medical benefits” (e.g. wheelchairs) but I had an experience relatively recently whereby a chair I bought, which was within budget got declined because we didn’t file the correct paperwork. Since the reason the incorrect paperwork got filed was because Discovery, the Medical Aid Scheme, provided us with the wrong forms. To cut a long story short, we were on the verge of taking them to court when a letter from our lawyer to the CEO’s personal assistant lead to the payment we were entitled to six months earlier. The trouble aside, we at least got the wheelchair we ordered. That is until three years later when we had to repeat the process.

As bad as the NHS has gotten when compared to what it used to be; it’s still far better than the public system we have in South Africa. Hell, when I was in England in mid-2015 my parents and I decided to visit a local, NHS hospital in London and were surprised with what we saw. In retrospect, given the exposure we had of the public healthcare system, it is hardly surprising that we were shocked. We discovered that the NHS, public hospitals in England are better than the very expensive private hospitals that an elite of South African society can afford. Needless to say, the benefits of the NHS is a not-insignificant motivation to make the move to England as quickly as we can.

5 Days & Counting

The two Bizony siblings in London 2015

So it’s t-minus five days until my parents and I are due to land at Heathrow Airport to meet up with my sister and her husband for the first time in over a year. After they moved to London on 2017’s Friday the Thirteenth, the five of us haven’t been in the same room. My sister and I haven’t seen each other at all during that time.

As much as this trip will be a chance for us to see each other again and catch up about 12+ months that we haven’t communicated sans the Internet, it will also help us get the ball rolling and immigration front. I mean we’re already there so why not take advantage of the opportunity. This added stress, though, means planning this trip has been a little more intense than it should be.

I’m kind of glad you can’t see inside my house at the minute; it looks a bit of a state in places. With all the packing all the sorting, packing, and panicking, it is easy to forget that we’re doing this trip primarily as a way to reconnect with the family. From the state of it, you’d think we were never coming back in early April. Still, I can’t wait to be leaving for a whole host of reasons, not least which family & friends. At least, if all goes according to plan we will be moving to England by the end of the year.

To be honest, the end of the year feels like such a long way away.What is truly scary, though, is that by the time we get back we will have not quite eight months before we leave and not quite six months until the end of my degree. As much as I want to be going, part of me can’t face leaving. I suppose this year is understandable when you consider that the only city I’ve ever truly known. I’d say that moving to the UK would have me lose my established support network but when I consider that the majority of the most important and oldest links network are already in England or soon to be going, that’s not entirely true. Still, I’ll be leaving behind some great people.

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Cape Town Globalist… Meet The Disability Diaries

Now in the final year of my degree, the decision to go to UCT’s ‘Plaza Week’ (the event at which you can sign up for whatever society manages to catch your eye) was made more out of a desire to see friends I hadn’t seen in the three-month vacation more than it was to sign up for any society. While strolling the Plaza looking at the full range of stalls from the anti-abortionists (sigh) to UCT’s LGBT+ community, RainbowUCT, I came to The Cape Town Globalist. As you could guess from the title or my tweets (assuming you follow me on Twitter; if you don’t, my handle is @AidanBizony), I signed up with them.

Important Links:
Facebook: The Globalist
Twitter: The Globalist

Tonight was the first meeting of the year for the society. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect and was just a tad cynical. Having left there less than three hours ago, I am truly surprised by them and am willing to work with them on an ongoing basis. If everything outlined tonight comes to fruition, I think it could be the start of a brilliant relationship.

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“Sorry I’m Late”

Hey guys… you still there?… um… this is awkward…

As any of my usual readers would notice, I’ve not been around much (or at all) over the last few weeks. It’s just been the start of the academic year at UCT and the beginning of my final year of my Undergraduate Degree so the work, social life, series, naps, and whatever else you’d expect a usual Cape Town student to get up to has been keeping me busy. Well, that and also the fact that every time I’ve come up with a post idea recently I either feel it needs a bit more work or it fizzles out into nothingness.

Now that I’m back into the swing of things, I finally feel comfortable publishing my nonsense again. Yay for you (assuming you actually like the blog). While I might have had to dig myself out of the woodwork recently, that doesn’t change the fact that I am still at a loss largely about a topic for the next few blog posts. To make up for this, then, I thought I should sketch an outline of what I’m planning so that you actually know what to expect and I have a list of ideas to refer back to in future.

Collaboration with Diary of a Disabled Person

We did it again.

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What Makes Me Different

Pantehra u3 lightI came across an article recently written by Virali Modi on Slate.com outlining some of her experiences about being in a wheelchair. I know that I’ve explained why I’m in a wheelchair, how I think slightly differently as a result, and how it affects my daily living but what I don’t feel I’ve explained well enough is how my being in a wheelchair makes me feel different… in good ways and bad.

As with anything, the wheelchair has its ups and its downs. In my previous post, Just How Much Does the Wheelchair Affect my Daily Living?I told you that the wheelchair is something I don’t consciously think about that often and that I often ‘see’ myself as standing until there is something that makes it obvious to me (like a bookshelf being too high). While all of that is true, I have become more aware of other little things that I realise behave slightly differently as a result of the chair since I published that article. Since I designed the blog to be a medium for me to express my opinions and experiences on life with a disability, I feel I should provide an update to the original article. So here goes…

1. I’m always seated

Although I’ve been disabled for my entire life, the wheelchair has only been part of my life for the past five or so years. Even when I wasn’t in a wheelchair, though, the nature of how I ‘walked’ was largely based on ‘hanging’ from my arms. In other words, I never truly stood. While I never stood properly (in the sense of weight-bearing through my feet and legs) I was still verticle.

Now some years down the line of being in a wheelchair, I still find myself using words like ‘walking’ or ‘standing’ when referring to what I’m doing. It’s just part of my vocabulary and I don’t notice myself using it until the person I’m talking to has a decidedly puzzled look on their face. Once the initial confusion subsides, however, they don’t seem to mind it too much.

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Why I am Not ‘Differently-abled’

More and more these days, there is a growing need for political correctness – be it with respect to race, sexuality, gender, or disability. The shift from the archetypal, misogynistic, narrow-minded approach is a movement I wholeheartedly support. To support a changing paradigm, though, does not exclude you from being able to disagree with elements that develop as a result of the emerging paradigm. The use of the term ‘differently-abled,’ which is gaining popularity in the Cape Town Disabled Community if not internationally as one of the alternatives to ‘disabled,’ is something I disagree with. Before you delete the website and stop reading the blog, at least give me the next couple of minutes to outline why it is I find myself repeatedly disagreeing with the shift from ‘disabled’ to ‘differently-abled.’

While I might not agree with the term, there is a lot to be said for the ‘differently-abled’ argument. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard in its defense, in fact, was that it acknowledges the different strengths and weaknesses in individuals, thereby highlighting what disabled individuals can do rather than what they can. The reason behind the term – as a way of highlighting what one can do as opposed to what they can’t – is something that I like about it. The problem, for me, comes primarily in the fact that while it acknowledges the strengths versus weaknesses argument, ‘differently-abled’ does not do enough to acknowledge the significant physical, emotional, and psychological limitations that a disability places on an individual just by the nature of its existence. These added limitations can be, and often are, severely limiting and disabling to the individual they effect. While I personally prefer ‘disabled’ as it does not shy away from the negatives that are natural attributes of the phenomenon, I really do appreciate the way in which ‘differently-abled’ emphasises the positive attributes of an individual. While ‘differently-abled’ might highlight the positive attributes of a person, I do not feel that the term is sufficient enough to communicate the dramatic impact of disability. For me, ‘differently-abled’ just sugar-coats disability a little too much for my taste.

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Leaving South Africa: An Update

For those of you who read The Disability Diaries often, you will know that our family has decided to immigrate to England. In a couple of earlier posts, I explained a little bit about why we decided to leave South Africa. Since today is a special day in the ‘Bizony Family Relocation’ saga, I thought it would be appropriate for me to give you (my readers) an update on how our plans to leave the country have been developing.

Although we’ve decided to leave by the end of my Undergraduate degree – which I am set to complete at the beginning of December 2018 – my sister and her husband moved to London last year. In fact, today is the anniversary of their leaving Cape Town for their new lives in England. Ever since they left South Africa, our emigration plans became all the more certain.

While their year away from us has not entirely isolated my sister and her husband from the ‘Cape Town contingent’ of the family thanks to WhatsApp and Skype calls, the fact remains that my father and I have not seen my sister since the day they left. To think that it has, as of today, now been a full year since my father and I have seen her is a little disturbing given the relationship we’ve had with her up until their leaving but at least it hasn’t been entirely isolating.

Notwithstanding the fact that our leaving plans dictate our leaving South Africa in early 2019 once I graduate, at least my father and I would see my sister before then. Since my 21st birthday is coming up this March, we decided that we will go over for a few weeks in mid-March. The March 2018 trip will serve two purposes: to celebrate my turning 21 with the whole family together again for the first time since they left and, secondly, to begin the various processes that can only be done from England that are necessary for our planned 2019 immigration.

Right now, though, our main concern is finding a place to live when we get to England for the first time as residents. Finding accommodation, at the best of times, is not the easiest thing in the world. This already-difficult problem is made even worse for us when you factor in that, for various reasons, we will not be able to rent property in the UK not to mention that we will be entering the English property ladder with the ‘Mickey Mouse currency’ that is the South African Rand. To say, then, that our property search is ‘difficult’ is an understatement.

Naturally, before we can decide on which house to buy in England we have to decide exactly where in England we plan to live. Considering that we need a minimum of three bedrooms and space for two adult Golden Retrievers, the factors we have to take into account in planning this monumental endeavour just continue to mount. Since my parents have decided that I “must be living on my own after a year in England,” they have focused more on where they’d like to live that would be near to London but far enough out to be cheap enough for our already-limited budget and well-suited to the lifestyles of two retirees. At the moment they are particularly enamoured with Wiltshire. How the Wiltshire plan will develop between now and the successful purchase of their ‘England home’ is anybody’s guess. At least their job is made easier by the fact that our South African house has been sold and the money has been converted to pounds and is now safe from how the South African currency will react.

Although it is not in the immediate future, knowing that my parents are planning on almost certainly living in a different city to myself and my sister is quite a strange concept for me. Either way, people do it all the time so it shouldn’t be that bad – at the very least, it’ll be an adventure.

So that’s about as much as we’ve planned in terms of leaving. It feels like a lot of work that we’ve been doing but when I see it written up I am terrified of how little we’ve actually achieved and how much we are still required to do before we can leave the country and the limited amount of time in which we have to do it.

Here’s to hoping we can do it.