Chronic Illness and Healthcare Inequality

Rhiannon May Jenkins shares her experiences of being diagnosed with a chronic illness and how this has highlighted the inequalities in the healthcare system.

I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2011 and was privileged enough at the time to speed up my diagnosis due to being able to access private healthcare. I became really unwell with my condition a year later and was no longer being seen privately, so was admitted to my local NHS hospital as an emergency case. After months in and out of hospital and due to the severity of my disease, I was referred to a specialist hospital who have taken great care of me ever since.

It was then that I began thinking about the stark inequalities within our healthcare system. My diagnosis back in 2011 only came about faster because my family could afford to pay for it. Had that not have happened, I would have suffered more months of debilitating symptoms, missing out on more of my education, social life and work, whilst waiting for a diagnosis on the NHS. I want to make clear that this is not the fault of the NHS. This is the fault of those who have drastically underfunded our health service, which now struggles to function under years upon years of cuts.

The specialist hospital that I am now under is an NHS hospital based in London. They have sufficient amounts of funding and access to many different types of medication for my disease. They have quick access to tests and procedures and multiple specialist nurses who are just an email away should you have any concerns. These are things that my local hospital just didn’t have and although you would expect certain differences at a specialist hospital, it got me thinking that it wasn’t fair for those patients who couldn’t access this level of healthcare.

Before I managed to access specialist care, everything was a waiting game. Waiting for a test to be booked. Waiting for the results. Waiting for a response from your nurse or consultant when you’re getting worrying symptoms. Waiting to hear if the hospital you’re under can get access to that drug that might change your life. When you have an autoimmune disease that can affect every single part of your day, sometimes you just can’t wait – or rather, you shouldn’t have to.

Having access to good quality healthcare is fundamental to disabled and chronically ill people. Without it we would struggle to work, live and contribute to society. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a need for private healthcare. Our NHS should be funded sufficiently nationwide so that everyone in the UK is able to access services that enable them to live life to the fullest. Healthcare is a right, but under a government that has starved the system of resources, it’s one we still have to fight for.


Rhiannon May Jenkins works within the NHS and is passionate about healthcare. She is an advocate for normalising chronic illness, having worked with Crohn’s and Colitis U.K. on a number of projects. You can find her tweeting at @rhiannonmay__


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