Over the last couple of days Ara has had high temperature during the night, and on Friday night it reached 39.7. So we felt it was time to get her seen. Obviously, we are not registered with a local GP and anyway it was Saturday now, so any paediatricians would be closed.  That really left us with only one option; go to A&E.

While the U.K. is still a fully paid up, formal member of the EU; as non residents in Italy, we are entitled to free healthcare. (Another thing to bare in mind if Brexit goes ahead).
It is a little known fact that according to the World Health Organisation’s ranking, Italy’s healthcare system is currently regarded as the 2nd best in the world after France. (Uk is number 18, wedged between the Netherlands and Ireland, USA ranks 37, 7 places below Canada). Of all Italy, Tuscany has the best healthcare in the country… and guess who has the best children’s hospital in Tuscany?
Yes, you guessed it, Florence.

It is a little known fact that I find very comforting as a parent, especially when facing slightly swollen looking 4 year old.

Meyer hospital, here we come.

Here, the name Meyer is akin to the likes of Rihanna or Lady Gaga, as doctors and parents, up and down the length of the boot, swoon and sing her praises. So to finally have a good excuse to come face to face with the famous children’s hospital of Florence, was strangely exciting, despite the fact that the one place no parent ever consciously wants to visit is a children’s hospital.

Google showed us the way, and took us on a remarkably scenic route. (What route isn’t scenic in Tuscany). As we approached, I started to wonder if Meyer’s reputation wasn’t typically Italian in the sense that when they describe it as wonderful, they are not really referring to its functionality, but rather to it’s superficial appearance and what they really mean is that it is very pretty.

It is very pretty.

Set outside of Florence proper, Meyer is surrounded by extensive gardens, parks and playgrounds. The building looks from the exterior like an architect’s dream hybrid; a traditional rural institution crossed with a futuristic space station made only from recycled/renewable materials. The steps from the carpark lead us through a maze of fountains decorated with ornamental animals and the visible relaxation in Ara’s face reflects the same release of tension I have been holding in all the way. It is at once charming and reassuring to know that for those most unfortunate families, their children will spend the worst time of their lives in a most idyllic setting. Calming for both patients and carers.
This hospital really has “la bella figura”. (Makes a good impression). It is clear that it’s makers took it upon themselves to create an environment that truly embodies the whole concept of healing. It is not simply about delivering diagnosis and medication but very much about the how to deliver diagnosis and medication in a way that it will be most conducive to healing. On entering the hybrid/organic spaceship, we follow the red line through a glass tunnel, where child friendly sculptures and artworks are scattered intermittently, distracting fearful children all the way until we are greeted at triage by a friendly Italian nurse who speaks to us in fluent English.

It is unfortunate however, but no surprise, that Meyer is a victim of its own success and waiting times in A&E are horrible. The standard of care delivered when it arrives is highly professional and it is clear that the staff take time and pride to consider each and every case. But it is not designed for non essential care. It is difficult, however, to blame the local parents for bringing their children to such a place, even if they may not warrant this level of attention, when they are guaranteed to be seen by some of the best doctors and nurses in the world. The hospital is clean and like everything in Italy, is equipped with the latest, state of the art apparatus. If you have to spend 5 hours in a waiting room, then at least you have the cafeteria and the book shop to distract you, not to mention giant i-pads embedded in the walls.

So now I know where all the tax goes.

I am writing this in full awareness of the current crisis that is happening in my home country.
In 1948, the same year the World Health Organisation was founded so was the NHS. The first and only healthcare system in the world. The UK has been a leader in this field and has inspired countless countries to improve their public services, bring health education and safer living to millions across the world. Under the current government we are watching it being destroyed.
Furthermore, as a nation we are being forced to partake in the ridiculous referendum regarding Brexit.
It saddens and perturbs me to think the UK could imagine itself better off in a world where we are not bound to our neighbours for support and allegiance. The EU is based, not only of economical sense but also philosophical and humanitarian principles. The civilised world is built on our ability to trade, communicate and share information across diverse cultures and in an era when we have the internet, it baffles me that as a country, we could even contemplate turning back the clock and aspiring to a pre WWII world.

In my opinion, rather than spending so much effort pining for an imaginary media-enhanced, Trup-infused, silicon life as styled by our cousins from across the pond (who incidentally score pretty poorly across the board) we would do much better to pay more attention to our brethren from across the channel. If Italy can build beautiful hospitals – then so can we… and we should.