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Brothers and Sisters!

Today’s moment for thought is dedicated to our wonderful British National Health Service.  The envy of the world, it performs a sterling function in the community, for which I do not feel sufficient appreciation is given.  As you know, illness is generally suffered by old people, and old people can be notoriously difficult to deal with, especially in times of stress, so I think doctors generally, and nurses especially, show incredible patience.


Doctor – dear nameless doctor ( because I never get to see the same one twice) – why do you need to know what’s wrong with me before you see me?   Why, when I call to make an appointment, do I get fed this line:

“For what reason do you want to see a doctor?  The doctors have requested that I ask you this.”

“Er…why?”   I presume my answer – this information, if I give it, will be passed on to the medical practitioner I am booked to see.  Does this person have special treatment kits they need to remember to bring for my particular complaint?  Or is it a matter of fine tuning?  The length of the consultation might be pertinent:  five minutes for anything above the waist, seven or eight minutes for anything involving removal of trousers.   Three minutes for a sick note, four minutes for flu, twelve minutes for a liver, and so on.

This is a receptionist.  She is not a doctor, she is not qualified.  I may have met her before, or not. She may have the phone on speaker, I don’t know.  Is my confidentiality being respected; are my details being broadcast for the amusement of the office, kept for blackmail purposes, for transmission to insurance companies, drug suppliers, the Russians?  There are certain things I would rather not discuss with anyone other than a qualified practitioner, and why should I?

However, not wishing to seem obstructive, I have come up with a solution that should be agreeable to all.

I have made a list of medical conditions I am at all likely to suffer and given each an easy to remember code.  I have used as my key Stations on the East Coast Main Line railway timetable.   I am ready to distribute this list to every doctor in the practice, so that, for example, when I tell the receptionist:

  • London King’s Cross is throbbing a bit
  •  I am failing to stop at Newark North Gate (or occasionally missing the end of the platform)
  • I’m still at Peterborough
  • Edinburgh Waverley hasn’t worked for three weeks now, or
  • The very thought of Berwick Upon Tweed is agony –

she will be able to relay this information in a form that respects my privacy and is at once easy for the doctor to understand.

The National Health Service is very good, but it tends to be a bit mercenary.  For example, apparently the last time our local surgery advertised for a new doctor they got a zero response.  Nobody wanted to sample the pleasant coolness and invigorating rain of County Durham.   The standard NHS explanation for such difficulties is always centred around money.  “We are under-funded”, they say, “which is why our doctors migrate to other countries where they can earn more.”   Could it be that these brave  doctors want to surf, and swim – to bathe themselves in a balmy sunlit glade somewhere?  Is it possible they simply want to get warm?

There are, however, a few – a very few – areas where, in my personal experience, financial improvements might help to oil the wheels, so to speak.

Dear Jeremy Hunt (Minister for Health), please give these matters some consideration:

  1. In a hospital with ten lifts (elevators), it would be preferable if more than two were working, especially if one of those is being used to transport patients to and from the operating theatres.  If there are times when an elderly person feels disadvantaged – or even, dare I say, humiliated – lying on a gurney in an inadequate hospital gown must surely be one.  Sharing a lift with a full load of ward visitors and their children is, for some less exhibitionist types, a very good reason to choose euthanasia.
  1. If the NHS is truly a seven-days-a-week service, why are almost all procedures booked for Monday to Friday and in ‘office hours’?
  1. Allowing people to sit or lie about in corridors is untidy and generally bad for your image. I thought at first these individuals were homeless persons, but it turned out they were just waiting for a free lift (elevator).
  1. In the above stated negative lift (elevator) situation, installing the cardiac ward on the fifth floor might be regarded as:   a.  an ingenious solution to patient overload, or b.  a sick joke.
  1. Adequate signage is essential. In hospitals please reconsider the seemingly ingenious method of direction which instructs visitors to follow coloured lines painted on the floor when searching for their appropriate department.  Allocating a green line to STI Clinic and a blue line to Maternity can cause real difficulties for colour blind patients.

Dear patient, dear (dare I say?) geriatric patient, be – well – patient, I suppose.  You may feel the NHS’s constant bleating about inadequate resources is inconsistent with your consultant’s Aston Martin in the hospital car park; you may feel victimised as your buttocks numb to their fourth hour on that plastic waiting room chair, or slightly patronised when a young intern tells you that persons of your weight and sedentary habits must expect to start bleeding out every now and then.

Remember he is overworked, and in the front line of a battle with an increasing army of the aged and the drunk.

What would we do without these selfless people?  More seriously, what will we do when they are gone?   For bad as it is, the NHS is under threat from rampant private interests who would have us all pay the real price for our medical care.

And who, in creaking austerity Britain, could afford THAT?