Seeing the GP in Australia: ‘It’s dispiriting how utterly luxurious it feels’

In Ireland I was on a list for a procedure for six years. I can now see a consultant within months not years

Himself is the sort of person who can’t sit down for 10 minutes together. Ten years in, you’ll generally know the person you’re in a relationship as well as anyone could. You accept them for who they are and I understand that I married someone who is a bit like a large puppy.

I have benefited enormously from his curiosity, his energy and his sense of adventure. It beautifully counteracts my more conservative tendency toward being a stay-at-home goblin. The only caveat with his ebullient energy is that it is essential he goes out and burns off the excess energy in a constructive fashion pretty much every day. You cannot expect him to stay sitting indoors without getting fretful, fussy, chewing the furniture or (God forbid) suddenly standing up and saying: “Will we tackle that messy wardrobe in your office since there’s not much going on?”

It helps that Australia does have a way of pulling you outdoors.

Its culture appreciates sport and spending time in nature. Himself is an enormously tall Londoner who hates London, but loves basketball – a sport that is deeply appreciated and commonly played here in Australia. I’m not sure why so many Australian people appear to be so tall. Even those of Irish extraction. Perhaps they partially photosynthesise, or we have all lost inches from being perpetually prawned over to protect ourselves from that mist that fluffs your hair up. Regardless, there are countless basketball teams in Canberra and a court close to where we live. If Himself isn’t at the gym, he’s at that court for an hour or so most days.


For sportsmen and women, this country is clearly a sort of minor paradise.

Recently, he returned from the court with a pained expression and a limp, looking exactly like a puppy wearing one of those vet cones. “It’s so crap to be getting old,” he said, as I peered at his swollen leg and went to the freezer for ice. He’s not even 40, so that felt a bit melodramatic, but basketball is notorious for injuring what Himself calls “the old men who play on weekends”.

He spent six months in one of those medical moon boots during the pandemic when he very badly snapped a tendon in his ankle. Googling the injury, he was glum to discover it’s most common in casual male basketball players in their 30s. Men who, he said, “used to be good at the game and remember when they could jump only to discover at the worst possible moment that their legs don’t share the memory”.

The pandemic was hardly an opportune time to need medical care for anyone, but after six years in London, both of us were left with the horrors of the NHS. So many British people are incredibly defensive of it, but institutions that function well don’t tend to inspire such a spirit of ideological fealty or pathological defensiveness. Neither of us could access our local GP at all for two years before our move to Australia. A series of oversights and near misses left us paying exorbitantly for access to care when it was absolutely urgent, and ignoring anything that wasn’t.

I’m not saying that Australia is perfect – it isn’t and with more exposure, I’m sure the flaws will become clearer to me

Figuring out the healthcare system in Australia has certainly been the most complex part of moving. More complex than visas, even. A mix of publicly funded Medicare and obligatory private insurance for most people, it works very differently to the UK. Himself shuffled into our GP here one Thursday morning, wincing as his knee refused to function normally, but conscious that it was nowhere near as serious an injury as the one that put him in the boot a few years back.

“You need an MRI,” the GP said. He had the MRI at a local radiology clinic four hours later. Galvanised by Irish and UK waiting times, he arrived more than an hour early for his appointment with a laptop in tow and snacks in his backpack, ready to work through the day while he waited for his turn. Forty minutes later, the receptionist walked up to him and said: “You’ve been waiting here for a while. I’m really sorry about that. Let me see if we can get you in now.”

“But my appointment’s not for another 20 mi-,” he replied, astonished.

In he went. Four days later, he was back at the GP to get the results.

My own experience so far with the Australian healthcare system has been similarly uncanny. No waiting for an hour or more in a GP waiting room. Blood tests are at walk-in pathology centres and you get the results in two days. There are no phones that go perpetually unanswered. I have to wait a couple of months for an appointment with a consultant, but not a couple of years. I pay out of pocket for that appointment, but receive some of the fee back in a Medicare rebate.

In Ireland during my 20s, my name was on a list for a particular nonsurgical procedure for six years. By the time I was eventually called up, I’d been living and working in London for several years.

Everywhere has issues and care is not equally accessible anywhere. I’m not saying that Australia is perfect – it isn’t and with more exposure, I’m sure the flaws will become clearer to me. Yet so far, healthcare here is so radically different that I can’t quite get my head around it.

During my time in London, routine healthcare – the kind that helps maintain wellbeing and stave off smaller problems escalating to an acute or chronic level – was largely theoretical.

Now, I can see a GP in person when I’m feeling unwell.

It’s dispiriting how utterly luxurious that feels.