The National Health: Good & Bad
Is the NHS the envy of the world or a Kafkaesque nightmare? Everyone’s experience is different.
My relationship with the organisation goes back to my birth, when I went straight into an oxygen tent, then continued with bouts of pneumonia through my childhood and into adulthood. Along the way I got to test its resources with depressing regularity, from polio jabs (anyone remember them?) via preventions of or treatments for measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarletina and onwards into endless eyesight problems, broken bones, stitches (37 in a knee after falling out of a closed window – long story) and various bizarre accidents, from an artery slashed on a rose bush and – prepare to wince – an exploding-lightbulb surprise from a screw-in that I had mistaken for a bayonet (you just put your hand over a bayonet and push down hard, or watch as splinters of glass enter your veins if it turns out to be a screw-in).
And on to the present day, with good and bad experiences. The biggest bad for the NHS itself involved the disastrous American patient record system, Lorenzo, that in 2013 ended up costing UK taxpayers nearly £10bn, with the final bill for what would have been the world’s largest civilian computer system likely to be several hundreds of millions of pounds higher. Doctors found they’d been sold a system that couldn’t open multiple files at once and had to revert to paperwork.
The bad also includes personal experiences, like being sent home with detaching retinas and being told to ‘come back if it gets worse’, and my partner being handed a YouTube link as a remedy for an ailment. The system is meant to function in a way that grades and prioritises illness according to the level of seriousness, and it largely works; with cancer it suddenly fast-tracks you.
But, having lived in other countries, I can say it’s not the best system in the world. My experiences in Spain and France have been brilliant, and the US was okay once I’d forked over a small fortune in advance, although I hated being prescribed tons of antibiotics and unnecessary drugs for the smallest illnesses. In my experience UK doctors go out of their way to avoid over-prescription. While NHS doctors and nurses are astounding in their dedication, the administrators can sometimes be a bit combative.
So, I decided to get a hearing test. Yesterday I was sent to a clinic in leafy Hornsey in North London.
A frail, embattled old lady sitting behind a slot in the glass (two feet too low) frantically rattles around paperwork like a Julie Walters character. ‘I’ve not got you down,’ she keeps saying in a small scream, ‘where’s your letter? What’s your name again?’
I tell her again.
‘Are you Timothy?’
‘No, I’m Christopher.’
‘Then where’s your letter?’
I patiently explain that I’ve not got it (it is, of course, proof of an appointment) because I know I’m seeing someone.
‘Where’s your text?’
‘I did not receive a back-up text.’
‘No text? You should have had a text.’
She makes a call. ‘I’ve got a Mr Wowler here. He’s not got his letter. He reckons he’s got an appointment but I’ve no record. Well, he reckons – ‘
‘I don’t reckon,’ I reply, ‘I know I have an appointment.’
She peers angrily at me, then back at the phone. ‘No – his name’s Timothy.’ She looks at me again. ‘Do you live in Arndale Road?’
‘I live in Wharfdale Road.’
She rings off and goes back to thrashing bits of paper. ‘He’ll try to fit you in but it’s not how we do things.’
Admin cock-up their end. I am quickly and efficiently taken to the doctors, who are superb. One is Polish, the other Italian, but who knows if they’ll stay after this damned moronic Brexit? They test me, then talk to me in a thoroughly holistic and intelligent way, discussing lifestyle, making changes, how I can improve my hearing and reduce tinnitus, what exactly is happening as I get older, and we go through advances in neurological science.
I came away feeling encouraged, enlightened and very glad that I’d decided to get a check-up. For the record it seems I have an above-average hearing range that’s dropping a tad on the highest pitches. And I’m thinking of changing my name to Wowler.