There’s not a day that goes by when the state of the British health service isn’t panned on the news. There are tales of long waiting lists, inconsistencies on standards of service across the country, under-staffing, low morale, botched operations and mis-diagnoses to name but a few. But until you actually have to use the NHS (National Health Service) you don’t really believe how bad it is. For various reasons that I’ll get into, I’ve had close encounters with the NHS a few times recently – and so have some friends – and I can report that the situation is worse than you could believe.
Let’s start with my mother. She was diagnosed with cancer around October 2001 and it was the beginning of a nightmare. Between that point and the day she died nine months later she never once had an MRI scan and we never once knew the extent of the spread of her cancer. She saw several different doctors and it always felt like a roller coaster ride of good and bad news reflecting the differing opinions of the doctors. At the time I felt my mother wasn’t getting particularly good treatment as I knew that if you want to track the progress of cancer treatments you need to have checkpoints of the tumours to compare and contrast. They never had that information and it seemed they were using guesswork and some endoscope explorations to surmise the state of her cancer. I can understand why people decide to sue hospitals or doctors for messing things up but it wouldn’t bring my mother back. As it happens, there probably wouldn’t have been anything they could have done, except give us a realistic timeframe as to how long she would have lived.
Next is my next door neighbour. He came back from a holiday in Australia a few weeks ago and he then went to watch a game of rugby. At this point he had a very sharp pain in one of his calf muscles and went to casualty in Cardiff. He was diagnosed with a possible DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and would need to undergo some test to make sure and they gave him a shot of warfarin. On returning home he went to the local hospital and they told him to take some pain killers and come back in two weeks if it persisted. He wasn’t taking that for an answer knowing that if he had a DVT he could drop dead the next day. So they told him to come back the next day for a scan. Come next morning he returned and was told that he should have made an appointment for the scan and besides, he’d need another test first to see if the scan was required! They performed the primary test which came back positive and then made an appointment for the scan. So he came back again the next day for the scan which showed a 10cm long blood clot in his calf muscle (good job he didn’t go home and see how he got on for 2 weeks).
So he was given daily injections of warfarin to thin his blood and would need to keep having them until his blood thinned to a certain amount for a certain amount of time (he even got conflicting information about taking alcohol – one doctor said he should take small amounts whereas another was adamant that he shouldn’t touch a drop). But after a while he started getting numbness in one of his arms and sharp shooting pains in his chest. At the same time he started having panic attacks (heart racing, adrenaline pumping, shaking, light-headed, that sort of thing). So he went back to hospital when the pain in his chest got too much. They strapped him to some monitors but discharged him shortly afterwards telling him there was nothing they could do. The pains continued and he decided to visit his local GP. This was where it got a bit bizarre. The GP looked up the side-effects for the medication he was on and they didn’t match up to what he was experiencing. So she just told him to take some pain killers and suck on a boiled sweet if he had another panic attack. He also mentioned that he had a sore throat so she recommended he suck on some ice! World class advice that ain’t.
Next on my list is my brother. And that’s what’s prompted this article. When he was younger he had a ganglion cyst in his hand (and had it removed). They’re basically swellings that appear under the skin and can restrict movement and cause some pain. The modern practice is no longer to hit them with a bible (absolutely true), but instead drain the fluid or in some cases perform minor surgery. Anyway, for the past couple of weeks a ganglion has been forming on his hand and it had started to cause him quite a bit of pain. So he decided to take a trip to casualty to see what they could do. After waiting for around an hour and a half a nurse came over to him to tell him that a doctor was going to come and see to him. When the doctor turned up he didn’t even look at the ganglion but instead told my brother that as he’d had the symptoms for more than three days that he’d have to go and visit his GP instead! Of course, he’ll have to wait until Monday to book an appointment and they’ll most likely refer him to a consultant which will most likely take three months before he gets to see him. Marvellous.
There’s talk just now of foundation hospitals and a two-tiered system and how that will destroy the principles of the same standard of service for all. But what use is the “same standard of service for all” if that standard of service is abysmal. I get private health care from work and I’m bloody glad that I do, you can waltz into your GP and arrange to see a consultant any time you want – no waiting around. I pay taxes to fund the NHS and I’d happily pay more if it would improve the standard of health care, but I very much doubt it would. I mean, it’s in such a state that it would take a miracle to turn it around. Maybe it’s time to reach for that bible and hit some politicians upside the head with it.