The NHS – what’s wrong with it?
My excuse for not doing one of these “blogs” for many months is that we have been caught up in a medical emergency that has made any urge to write blogs, or even poetry, feel redundant – “beside the point” somehow. I think I mentioned several blogs back that my “wife” (what an old-fashioned term that now sounds!) had begun to suffer from rheumatoid polymyalgia? Weaning herself off the diet of steroids that had been prescribed for that condition, this past year Vic began to find that, underlying her polymyalgia, she has in fact been developing osteoarthritis, most crucially in both her hips – a development that had been masked by the heavy use of steroids for the polymyalgia. One consultant even wondered if the anti-inflammatory steroids had somehow hastened and worsened the development of bone degradation in her hip joints. Anyway, this past year Vic’s mobility has rapidly deteriorated – from being able to walk up to ten miles to becoming wheelchair dependent and hardly able to crawl up our short flight of stairs. Clearly hip replacement operations were going to be our main hope for a more mobile and pain-free future. But of course the local GP services feel to have become almost unreachable over the last 18 months, being overburdened with extra Covid duties and protective precautions as well as being hampered by staff shortages. At best we were able to arrange telephone consultations with what seemed like an ever-changing panel of doctors – sometimes after hours of waiting in phone queues. (Perhaps they should call us “impatients” rather than “patients”?) One locum GP did arrange for X rays to be taken of Vic’s hips while another doctor arranged for her to be seen by a specialist nurse and, less usefully, by a physiotherapist. The specialist nurse even wrote a letter to the medical practice about Vic’s condition marked Urgent – but that letter was mislaid because the named locum had already left the practice. Nothing at all was done about the X-rays which, we now know, clearly showed the serious condition of both hips, with bone grating on bone, almost no cartilage left. Meanwhile we began to hear, through news media but also through meeting fellow sufferers, of long tailbacks of patients waiting for hip replacements in our Shropshire area, many having to wait for months, even years, for their operations “on the NHS”. The upshot of so much delay (I suspect the medical practices of stalling, going slow, to stop these “non-urgent” tailbacks growing ever longer) is that we have been forced to “go private” to arrange relief for the increasing pain which poor Vic has been enduring since April. In theory this queue-jumping has been against my political principles – to me the introduction of a National Health Service was one of the great achievements of the first Labour government and Vic herself worked for the NHS for 40 years – but in practice ethical principles weigh nothing when measured against watching some loved one suffering ceaseless pain day and night. So, again theoretically against my principles, we have been forced to “pull strings” to see the relevant senior consultant, a friend of Vic’s ex-consultant relative (“It’s not what you know it’s who you know” should now become my new Tory-boy motto?) and to jump the queues by paying about £12,000 per hip for her to be operated on more quickly. Since paying up front we have had exemplary attention and treatment. Vic had her first hip replacement operation three weeks ago and is promised the second hip replacement within 3 months. Meanwhile, when I stroll up the High Street for our daily shopping needs, I feel assailed by a variety of elderly cripples, some on crutches, some pushing walking frames, and one or two riding those neat little motorised buggies – all (or so I guiltily imagine) without the ready cash and personal “pushy power” to obtain treatment for their aging hips. This squeezing of middle-class patients towards private sector solutions seems to be occurring in many different areas of the Health Service. It is certainly so in Dentistry – as our (NHS) dentist daughter informs us…and for multifarious other non-life-threatening medical conditions too? To be fair to the GPs, attention to the “more serious” ailments (heart disease or the many different kinds of cancer, for instance) seems to be as prompt and skilful as ever. And of course the local medical practices, overworked and understaffed as they appear to be, have had an on-going Covid pandemic to deal with too. Meanwhile I smugly congratulate myself on my improving skills as a personal Home Carer for Vic while she is recuperating from her first operation , trying to learn by my many mistakes in cooking, laundry and all the other “menial” duties which I had somehow managed to avoid in our previous pre-osteoporosis life together.