Saturday, 4 January 2014

Save the #NHS!


UPDATED 15th January 2016

On Monday, I had my 2nd year checkup at the Breast Care Unit at Luton & Dunstable. I had a mammogram and was seen by the consultant quickly and efficiently. I am cancer clear again - BUT my point still is: I had all this treatment 'free'.

On Wednesday, my husband had a bad fall - we thought he'd broken his wrist. A visit to the Minor Injuries Unit at St Albans and an X-ray and bandage later, he is home and recovering. Again, 'free'.

Neither of us, with our age and medical histories, would be taken on by any sane insurance company. I believe that this current government wants to do to the NHS what Margaret Thatcher did to the miners: destroy it. I stand with everybody fighting to save this wonderful and truly egalitarian institution.

As part of my research into Victorian London, I've been looking at mid-Victorian medical training and surgery. It was a fascinating time - just on the cusp of the surgeon as ''star'' as in: 'I can whip this leg off in 3 minutes; don't bother with anaesthetic, just give the patient a leather strap to bite on' to the realization that sedation played a huge part in the ultimate recovery process and that patient comfort and saving lives was more important than scoring reputation points.

The training was very different in those days. If you didn't have a degree from Oxbridge, which was a fast track way of entering medicine, you paid to be a dresser or apprenticed yourself to a surgeon at one of the country's teaching hospitals, where you watched endless dissections, took a rather basic exam and 4 vivas, and eventually there you were. Have Knife & License, can operate. The research has taken on extra piquancy because as some of you know, I was admitted to hospital just before Christmas for a breast cancer operation.

Amazingly, surgeons were performing my operation in the 1860's. The survival rates were not high, although some women did survive. They didn't have a big arrow stamped on their shoulder pointing to the bit to be operated on as I did though. Nor, bizarrely would they have had their leg labelled - presumably in case it got bored during the op and wondered off. And in those days they were not injected with radioactive blue dye. Surgery has come a long way! (I have to report that I do not now glow in the dark. Sadly).

However my main point is that in 1861, the prospect of my operation was not only fraught with fear and pain and a pretty low success rate, but was largely dependent upon your finances. There was no ''free at the point of delivery'' option. If you were poor, you just suffered terribly and then died. Whereas I had the services of a top Consultant, a skilled anaesthetist and a Registrar all highly trained, and FREE.

The government, as did its Conservative predecessor under Mrs Thatcher, regards FREE as a dirty word and seems determined to control, outsource, de-fund and dismantle the NHS. I experienced some of the results of their malign handiwork when the nurses in the recovery room were so busy getting my paperwork sorted that they forgot to discharge me with any pain relief - I have to report that varying red wine with Prosecco works admirably!

I am so grateful for the NHS - for the ''right'' to medical care 'free at the point of use'. Given my 'swarm' immigrant origins and plebeian status, I doubt I'd have been able to afford my operation in 1861, whatever my chances of survival. And I will fight for the right of others to have the same marvellous treatment that I had. A return to Victorian values? No thanks!




31 comments:

  1. An interesting blog posting, Carol. Our NHS is, indeed, something of which to be proud and something to treasure. We are lucky to be born in modern times.

    I hope that your post op recovery goes very smoothly, and that you are soon back to feeling 100% again.

    Liz X

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  2. How right you are, Carol - an NHS that is free at the point of delivery, where those who have contribute a bit more in taxation for those who have not, so that those with less have equal access to health care - surely we must never lose sight of that.

    And (glancing across the pond here where they seem to believe that health and markets belong in the same sentence) this is surely something that other countries can learn from, rather than us importing competitive ideas into a service which is fundamentally egalitarian.

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    1. The prospect of having to pay -= as I believe the govt is thinking about for visiting A&E is another step down the privatization route.

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  3. Ahh as always Hedges...you have conjured such imagery as to make this Gargoyle drool with glee. I can almost hear the petrified screams of the suffering patient...can practically taste the coppery residue of blood in the air...can feel myself delightfully distracted as yet another dismembered limb plops with a wet squelch into a fly infested bucket...........but enough of the NHS!!!.....

    A most interesting post!...And whilst I'm more than grateful we have moved on from the raw and risky procedures of Victorian practices...I'm also grateful to all the medical pioneers of that era who, through the torturous experiences of others, helped provide us with the knowledge we have today!...Yep...I enjoyed this Hedges...good stuff!!...xx

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  4. I know the NHS has its problems, but British people should be endlessly grateful for it - not only because of the progress you so rightly describe since the 19th century, but because I have lived most of my life now in countries where there is no free medical care (unless you are very poor). I also worked in medical insurance for nigh on fifteen years, so I know only too well what can happen when people don't have access to medical care when they have no insurance. It's heartbreaking and devastating. I'm so glad you have such great treatment accessible for free.

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    1. If left to this present Govt. we won't have for very much longer...wgich terrifies me..that and the blame being heaped on our elderly heads for blocking beds and using more than our ''fair'' share of resources.

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    2. *shakes head* So what will they all do when they are old? Good grief. This UK government seems hell bent on making itself even more hated than Maggie Thatcher…and that's saying something.

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    3. Don't know.But again in today's paper there was a long article on how the elderly are forcing the NHS to spend more than it has...ie are not worth bothering about. Fine - so I shall be quite happy to die if I develop a nasty illness or start eating my socks..but the doctors won't be allowed to let me, will they....

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  5. Excellent post, Carol. Well said, and I hope you're fine. God knows what the Victorians would have done with my blocked ureter and swollen kidney. It doesn't bear thinking about.

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    1. Probably done something life changing and awful involving a sharp knife and a length of leather strap. And not in a good way.

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  6. Don't know about eating socks, but I am quietly rebelling against the way we oldies are treated these days, as being told that 'its to be expected at your age' which loosely translates as 'grin and bear it' is enough to make me incandesant with rage. So one of my resolutions this year is to avoid my doctors surgery at all times!
    Sorry to hear of your troubles Carol, hope you're fighting fit in no time...

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  7. One of the great "unintended consequences" of modern medicine (free or not) is that we all live much longer - as an Oldie myself, there are SO, SO many more of us then when the idea of the NHS was born.

    I do feel that compulsory euthanasia of the over 70s may not actually be a vote winner, so is unlikely to make it onto the stature books.

    Luckily we know that the NHS will always offer treatment free at the point of care. No government of ANY colour would dare to change that. Its just that its never been "Free" - we have just paid for it out of our taxes, and the reality is it takes more and more of a share of our resources to keep it going!

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  8. Oh, and by the way - I have lost too many friends to C over the years - please do your best to avoid adding to their number! *crosses fingers*

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    1. Thanks. And I take your second comment on board.

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  9. A powerful post Carol, and I hope your recovery is going well x

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  10. I agree we should really be grateful and the NHS has always been good to me and the clinic I attend is there when I lift the phone and I'm seen right away,however I've not had such good experiences with elderly parents. On saying that it really was about the staff and stupid rules that made life so much harder when there was no need for it. What the NHS needs is sensible people at its head, people who have been carers or had experience using services not the over qualified numpties. Make them spend a day in a geriatric ward.

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    1. There does seem to be a problem at that end, I agree. I think as a society, and the media plays a past in this, we have gone away from appreciating the contribution our elderly folks make, and begun to see them as a problem. Plus, I wonder whether medical intervention means that we are living too long...

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  11. In theory the NHS is amazing and I'm so glad you had such excellent treatment BUT as you may remember, my mother was badly neglected in a general ward and while I was there each day I saw countless other elderly people similarly neglected. Care should not depend on whether we can speak out or not. Care is a basic right for everyone.

    Sorry, I shall now get off my soapbox and await your next book (with a mental note to skip the gruesome bits that involve non anaesthetised amputations.

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    1. You and Anne seem to be on the same page!!!

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  12. I'm sorry I hadn't picked up that you were due an operation, but I wholeheartedly agree with you about the NHS! Undoubtedly there are complaints that can be made but it is FREE!! When living in Africa I came to appreciate what a privilege that is: when my (6yo) son was ill I had to pay for his hospital bed before any treatment was done - over £100 straight up. We are so blessed by an excellent health service.

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    1. Of course..you have that extra appreciation! What scares me is the way this Govt is steering us towards the American health model....fine for those who can afford insurance..not so fine for everyone else.

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  13. Glad that you are on the mend, missus. We have much to be grateful for with our NHS, but like many things it needs constantly improved. There's always an element of one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing in hospitals and admin is a nightmare. That said, when I had my 6 day stay for Antonia's birth last year, I had excellent treatment. Unfortunately I think things are very hit and miss, but come back to your original point - it's free. I know others have said it isn't free, and of course we do pay for it out of our taxes, but in the US, they pay their taxes AND have to pay for healthcare or insurance on top of that. All the best, Sooz x

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  14. Medical knowledge has certainly moced on apace since the Victorian times and even since the beginning of this century. That helps towards people living longer, though it's far from the only reason, and it may keep people alive beyond the point where they want to live, or are able to make any form of decision. Are people being kept alive medically then "because we can!"? I don't really know.
    I'm old enough to remember the cottage hospital and the days when every small town had it's full complement of doctors and nurses in a reasonably well furnidhed building. As hospitals became centralised into regional monoliths out of necessity, because of equipment expense and experise availability, the NHS started overlaying management that had a business, rather than a medical bias. Unfortunately one of the laws of management is that every manager must have two reporting to him, or her. Once in, they're never going to get out, absorbing valuable financial resources and in some cases blocking good initiatives, because that's what their job is!
    I speak as an NHS client, though my wife, her sister and my daughter are all nurses, as are many of our friends, and my cousin was a GP for 35 years. They all tell much the same story of a wonderful institution, staffed by mostly highly trained and dedicated staff, but often blocked by paper-pushers and over-zealous management who have little, or no medical knowldge.
    I had my tonsils out when I was 5, though I remember little about it, except that I was used as a dartboard by nurses morning and night for penicilin jabs. I was very ill. In the ebd, after a week of this they realsied I was a) homesick and b) allergic to penicilin, so I was sent home. SWince then I had an operation on my kneecap that I had done privately because after waiting for the NHS for two years to decide what they would do (they finally recommended dance therapy!) I could wait no longer. Good job I didn't, or I would have had, what the HNS calls a frozen injury and needed a stick for the rest of my life.
    My wife is a staunch advocate of the NHS and all it stands for. Some years ago she had horrendous pains in her back. After several bouts, starting every two months but getting more frequent, The GP and the hospital agreed she probably had gall stones, but they refused to operate because by the time they scanned her the stone had gone through. Catch 22. In the end it got so bad I persuaded her to go private and she saw the same consultant who had her in within 2 days and whipped out her gall bladder just in time. It was so badly inflammed and infected, another episode and it would have burst. Since then we had the same experience with my wife's stomach. 3 years ago she had a third of her stomach removed and quite a bit of tubing. Eating is not a joyful experience. Had the NHS operated 2 years earlier when my wife was first referred a tiny bit of tubing would have been removed, but they told her it was all in her mind.
    Sorry for the ramble, Carol, but the NHS is a wonderful theory that mostly works in practice, but is so wrapped up in budgets, lists, targets and red tape that it has trouble operating.... literally!

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  15. A fantastic article Carol! I didn't know of your situation and I hope that you are on your way to making a full recovery! :-)

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  16. Great post Carol. As you know I too have relied heavily on NHS to look after my boys. We are not on breadline but know that if we had to pay for medical treatment we would be broke.
    Wishing you well with your recovery.

    Carol x

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  17. Was listening to Bill Bryson this morning, giving graphic and gruelling tale of 1850's woman being operated on...urgh. I can only hope that your op was conducted with more dignity! Wishing you the speediest of recoveries! And I agree about NHS. It stands for National Health Service...National, not just for those who can afford it! If I had to pay...well, I couldn't. And, being a chronic asthmatic, I wouldn't still be here.
    We have a lot to be grateful for, let's hope we can continue to be grateful for it in the future.

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    1. Absolutely. I have just had 2nd op for BC - sorted and done ....and I got a cheese and tomato sandwich afterwards too!! Can't say fairer that that.

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