I cannot let the 70th anniversary of this nation’s National Health Service pass without some comment.

We are extremely lucky to have it and it is one of the remaining things which make it good to be British.

I’ve always known that but it is only during the past five years, when I had a serious health problem for the first time in a life during which I hardly ever had to consult a doctor, that I really appreciated how lucky we are.

rainbow over Airedale General Hospital

Rainbow over Airedale General Hospital, one of the places I’ve been looked after very well

Extraordinary people

It’s not just the service itself but the people working in it. I’ve been in hospital a few times during the past few years, first to A&E, then three times for surgery, and now frequent visits both to our local medical centre, four hospitals and one other specialist clinic. Scans in what could be terrifying machines seen before only in SciFi movies, things inserted where I never had imagined things could be inserted; I even overcame my fear of the needle, so much so that the quarterly stab in the stomach with what one nurse told me was more like a screwdriver (I’ve never dared to look) has become a relaxed jolly chat. One gave me a sticker declaring ‘I’ve been brave today’; it’s still proudly displayed in the campervan.

General anaesthetic

I learned that having a general anaesthetic was a surreal experience not to be missed unless necessary on medical grounds; on the other hand observing my ward bedfellows it was clear that epidurals were to be avoided. Another surreal experience was looking at my internal mechanics thanks to one of those devices inserted where I never dreamed I would allow.

The staff during every visit, on every phone call, receptionists, doctors, surgeons, nurses, nursing assistants, phlebotomists, cleaners, people bringing food and drink, volunteers bringing newspapers and sweets, medical secretaries – all were simply wonderful. They made the inevitable pain on some occasions not only bearable but forgettable.

Nurses at work

I’m so glad I had the opportunity during stays in hospital to observe nurses at work. Always clearly overworked and subject to bureaucracies which, as a former senior manager, horrified me – clearly designed to protect the institution from possible litigation rather than to protect the patient – were cheerfully overcome for the patient. So much so, I referred to my stays as more akin to a holiday camp than a medical institution. I experienced both private rooms in a private hospital, paid for by the NHS, and six bed wards in an NHS hospital. The first was superb but I preferred the companionship in the six bed ward. There was no difference to the care.

Junior doctors

I was proud to join a picket line of ‘junior doctors’ (a silly terminology – they are often skilled, experienced, well-qualified doctors). Talking to them it was clear that their first concern was not pay, but the danger that the present Government was selling out the NHS to private, profit-making interests.

Of course there are enormous problems to be overcome if the NHS is to continue to provide the outstanding care it does, not least the aging population helped to live considerably longer lives. Yes, some of the inefficiencies not in the control of the medical staff could be cut out but the amounts of money required will still be tremendous. I know that I’m not alone in saying that if a specific tax were introduced to provide extra money to the NHS I would not object. I’m certainly among the majority sick to death of the politics of both left and right preventing an acceptable solution.

Priorities

Then there’s the matter of priorities. When I was writing as a journalist in Romania I published a feature on what I called the ‘disease of poverty’ – tuberculosis. The director of a hospital I interviewed told me that if he had the money being poured into heart transplants – benefitting tens of people – he could eradicate tuberculosis, benefitting not tens, but tens of thousands.

So, on your 70th birthday, thank you NHS. May whatever or whoever protect you from the politicians and big business and, the usual Romanian birthday greeting: La Mulți Ani! – to many (more) years.

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Calming fish in the Medical Physics department

I didn’t think I was going to post again until the New Year but, having had a visit to hospital yesterday (no, not a new problem) I just have to say something, and pose a question.

First, the staff – from receptionist to radiographer, they are truly delightful. I have said that in the past about the staff at Airedale hospital, where I’ve been an inpatient more than once and outpatient more times than I can remember over the past three years, but the same is true at Bradford Royal Infirmary where I was today. Not an inpatient,  just there for a bone scan, the fourth one I’ve had.

Jolly Scottish radiographer and Jamaican goat curry

Previous to that experiences, not on my own behalf but as a visitor, they were not happy ones. My elderly mother was the patient and visiting her was a depressing experience. When I had to to be taken to A&E (Accident & Emergency) three years ago I was, frankly, rather frightened from my previous experiences visiting my mother. However, because of where we live I did not and generally do not go to Bradford, only for the type of scan yesterday. I had the same jolly Scottish radiographer as previously and because for some reason this time he mentioned goat curry made by his Jamaican mother-in-law, he had me reminiscing about my visit to Jamaica years ago.

All this was before the scan, for which you must lay perfectly still for an hour or so while ‘Hawkeye‘ (that’s the name of the scanner, which made me laugh) looks for gamma rays from your bones, blood system having been injected with a radioactive potion a couple of hours before. Something new was after the hour I was stretched out on the ‘table’ he asked me to “sit on the camera” – to get a different view of my pelvis.

 

I couldn’t get WiFi working in the Medical Physics department where the scan was done so spent much of the waiting time in the magnificent new ‘reception’ area – bright, cheerful and more like a shopping centre (mall) – Marks & Spencer Simply Food, Costa coffee shop, newsagents and hospital restaurant – than a hospital. I managed to get WiFi there, partly in the restaurant eating an excellent leek and potato soup, so spent much of the time ‘chatting’ to a dear blogger friend far away.

My question

Which brings me to my question. When our National Health Service is so strapped for cash as repeatedly reported now, nurses underpaid and both patients and visitors ‘ripped off’ with crippling parking charges (luckily I can park some distance away and walk to the hospital) – should what clearly had been a very substantial sum of money be spent on the reception area? Maybe the respective NHS Trust had been as wily as the authorities in the Romanian city of Iasi, where commercial interests were allowed to develop a modern shopping ‘mall’ if they paid for restoration of the nearby magnificent ‘Palace of Culture’ museum. I don’t know.

I cannot decide on my own answer to my question. I understand the reasons for making such reception/waiting areas more bright and cheerful, and it certainly made the experience of visiting hospital better, but would the cash be better spent on medical facilities or staff? What do you think?