A Love Letter to the NHS

Like all those we love most, you are far from perfect.

There are the minor irritations, the disappointments, and sometimes much more serious failings that can’t be ignored and shouldn’t be excused.

And yet, we couldn’t live without you – literally, in my recent experience – though I fear that’s what the government is planning: a relentless running-down of an overstretched, understaffed and occasionally badly managed health service to the point where we all accept your inevitable demise. (See my previous post for more on the Tory’s PR strategy).

That would be a tragedy. I’ve used your services more than I’d have liked to in the past year. Ageing relatives make for many hours spent in your hospital wards and A&E departments.

Mostly what I’ve seen is compassion, commitment and outstanding medical care.

The cheery nurses who, despite running from patient to patient for 12 hour shifts with barely a tea break still say, with passion, how much they love their jobs.

The doctor who, on his seventh consecutive day in charge of a huge ward takes time to listen, assess and explain without a hint of impatience or even fatigue.

The specialist who gently suggests another uncomfortable scan because she’s just got a “niggle” that something may not be quite right.

To Lucy, Zainab, Doug, Jonathan, Jackie and so many others at the sharp end, a huge thank-you. On the few occasions when I had criticisms of the actual clinical care, the problem was clearly that there simply weren’t nearly enough of you given the unrelenting demand.

To some of your colleagues though, forgive me but I have harsher words, most specifically for the administrators.

Vast bureaucracies are rarely associated with efficiency (I’m a former BBC staff member, so I know of which I speak) and you, dear NHS, are no exception.

Your armies of administrators either lack initiative or are forbidden from taking it. Too often they are unable (or unwilling) to understand an ill or anxious patient’s worries. It’s as if they work in an organisation manufacturing widgets, far removed from health or care or anything to do with important human needs.

It’s not acceptable to be told an appointment can’t be booked because the man in charge of that particular clinic’s appointment diary has gone to lunch and nobody knows when he’ll be back. Or that none of the 15 other people in the room can access the clinic’s diary, it’s not their responsibility  “so go home and we’ll be in touch.” (Except of course that the appointment does get made when the pushy middle class journalist type insists.)

It doesn’t inspire confidence either when several letters arrive from one hospital, simultaneously confirming an important appointment and cancelling it.

You have to wonder who’s in charge of the different teams that wash floors, change curtains and even clean the curtain rails. They haven’t assigned anyone to wipe the trays alongside the patients’ beds so it isn’t done, not once in the 18 days I was visiting that ward.

As for the complete failure to provide bed-ridden patients with any means of washing their hands when they’ve used a bed pan… I know, part of the problem is time. Over worked staff are rushing on to the next person in need. But given the omnipresent disinfectant dispensers and the constant reminders to squirt-and-rub to stop the spread of disease, it makes no sense. Presumably, like the trays, someone forgot to put it in the rules.

So yes, dear NHS, you need to shape up. You could do with more clinical practitioners and I suspect, fewer but better trained and motivated administrative staff. But you could also do without being the football in an increasingly poisonous political fight. I’ve lived in the US and in the developing world and believe me, after seeing the alternatives, I’m completely on your side.