The National Health Service was well in place in Britain before I was born. I was an NHS baby, an NHS kid, an NHS adult. In the 1970s the system went into crisis for all the usual reasons – underfunding, mismanagement, endless reorganisations. In the 1990s it went through another one, overloading itself with managers and employing a notoriously bad US computer system that locked doctors out from their own patient files.
But it survived the ageing population and increased patient turnover by hiring from elsewhere. It was actually better than private healthcare, which was expensive and constantly wriggled out of making payments. When my business partner was taken sick he received better medical attention in an NHS hospital.
Now, thanks to Brexit and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, those days have gone. The Little Englanders, mostly elderly Tories in the country’s muddy bits, didn’t want ‘to see black faces in the wards’ and voted out, although I don’t suppose we’ll ever be able to understand how they thought leaving Europe would reduce the number of Nigerian nurses.
Cut to my emergency a few days back. I awoke partially blind and whisked myself off to the A&E department of Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, that venerable old redbrick monstrosity built in 1805 near the UK’s second ugliest place after Cardiff, Old Street Roundabout. I went there once a week right through my childhood to have my eye muscles built up with exercise, but this trip was very different. Unable to see and deeply worried about what was happening to my sight, I was eventually examined by a harassed doctor who said there was a tear occurring in my retina and I was to come back if it worsened.
Unhappy with the idea of a late attempt at remedy over prevention, I visited my optician and he recommended someone private. I still have private cover from years of running my own company, and invoked it now. I was seen that night at 8pm. The doctor told me that if my sight was to be saved I would need to be operated on the very next morning at 7am. He put together a team overnight, I had the op just in time, and am now on the long road to recuperation.
I wonder; if I hadn’t taken the initiative and had left it to the NHS, would I now be blind? I had been part of a patient quota, someone to be seen and signed off to tick a box and keep the turnover looking good. As a direct result of Brexit the UK is now 100,000 nurses short and desperately needs doctors. Paradoxically, those who voted out will be the ones most hurt.
I still believe passionately in the NHS and its staff – but parts of the system have already stopped working. Jeremy Corbyn wants to increase state involvement dramatically in the lives of Britons (at least, we think he does; like all career politicians he survives by being utterly indecisive). But with the country now facing the consequences of David Cameron’s disastrous blunder (why has he not been strung from a lamppost for what he did?) it seems increasingly unlikely that we can get back to a golden age of fast good health for all.