Painting a Picture of the NHS

By Monday in London, we have figured out the Tube, how to mind the gap, and we can almost always remember to look right for traffic. Some of us are discovering the differences in United Kingdom (UK) and American foods while others are navigating the big city life coming from small town rural Alabama.

Today all of us had the opportunity to visit The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine! The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is a research University and postgraduate school in Public and Global Health. LSHTM was founded in 1899 by Patrick Manson, a Scottish physician and founder of tropical medicine. Originally, twenty-six names appeared on the façade of the LSHTM building. These names were all men who contributed to science and public health such as Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur. In 2019, the school added three female names to the building to recognize their contribution in furthering innovations in public health: Marie Sklodowska-Curie, Florence Nightingale, and Alice Augusta Ball. During our tour of the inside of the building, we visited their library that holds the largest collection of public health literature in the United Kingdom and saw the John Snow Pump on loan from the John Snow Society to the LSHTM. 

Outside of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

After our tour of the building, Dr. Hilary Davies-Kershaw gave a lecture on the overview of the healthcare delivery and public health system in the United Kingdom. We learned more about the National Health Service (NHS) and the differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland public health systems. Dr. Davies-Kershaw explained that some specialties such as optometry and dental services are not covered under the NHS, these services are private. Dr. Davies-Kershaw discussed the financial structure and how public health and healthcare is funded through tax payer dollars. She explained that the structure is different for other parts of the UK such as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In the United Kingdom, the process of receiving care, specifically specialty care can be prolonged. After discussing the differences between private insurance and the NHS, Dr. Davies-Kershaw discussed how public health in the UK has changed overtime and sentinel laws that they hope will lead to improved health outcomes.

After a quick lunch break, we visited the National Portrait Gallery. Here we saw a myriad of different pieces from various artists spanning the globe. The National Portrait Gallery was established in 1856 and holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. The gallery’s collection includes paintings, photographs, and sculptures of notable figures. From the moment you step inside, you’re transported through the centuries, surrounded by captivating artworks that bring the past to life. The gallery highlights the Tudor, Elizabethan, Victorian and Contemporary eras. Our class was most excited to see the various attributes to our current public health strategies and foundations of epidemiology. One example of this was the images we viewed of Margaret Jennings; she played a crucial role in the purification of penicillin. Her work involved developing methods to extract and purify penicillin, which greatly contributed to its mass production and use as an effective antibiotic. Jennings’ contributions were instrumental in saving countless lives and revolutionizing the field of medicine. Another interesting character was Aneurin Bevan. He was a prominent British politician and a key figure in the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS). Putting faces to names humanizes the historical figures we have been learning about on this trip. With a deep understanding of the histories within public health and epidemiology, we now have a strong foundation on which to build and continue to gain more insight in Scotland!

After our afternoon in the museum, we played tourist and experienced London culture. One group used their time to check off many of their remaining bucket list items. We continued to explore different parts of the city by riding double-decker buses, taking the tube, and walking everywhere! Some of us visited Buckingham Palace and even met kind police officers who were willing to snap some photos and even lend their hats! The night ended with dinner and then some of had a friendly competition to see who could navigate public transportation and get back to the hotel the fastest. 

Akshar with a police officer in front of Buckingham Palace

Another group chose to spend their time by going to the Sondheim Theater to enjoy a West End show. Here the group sang, laughed, and cried during Les Miserables. Surprisingly, the premises of Les Miserables related back to some of what we have been discussing in the course: poverty, homelessness, mental health, discrimination (i.e. the social determinants of health). As we dried our tears from the moving performance, we headed back to the hotel but not before popping by a pub for traditional fish and chips! We are so fortunate to be able to take advantage of all London has to offer. These experiences will last a lifetime and are really spurring a desire to explore and learn in other parts of the world.

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