There’s no doubt in my mind that the British NHS model of healthcare is preferable to any other I can think of. This is not to say that some other systems may deliver better outcomes in some areas and that we shouldn’t learn from their examples. But maintaining the principle of universal health care free at the point of delivery is one we should never relinquish. Indeed, this was the subject of my very first question at Prime Minister’s Questions, when I suggested to Tony Blair that this principle should be enshrined as a human right (I can’t remember the answer, such was my excitement). I have no doubt that for the majority of NHS patients they get the best of care, but speaking from personal experience I suspect that there are avoidable outcomes which could be overcome with a little bit of simple dialogue. When I was once in a Leeds hospital waiting for test results after a high blood pressure sort of wobble many years ago, I occupied a bed for five or so days in complete ignorance of what was happening. After this period, without being given any information I discharged my myself much to the obvious chagrin of the nurse. There was, as it turned out no need to keep me in, and whilst I was there a bed was occupied in what appeared to be a fully occupied ward. The lack of information probably didn’t help bring my blood pressure down. What prompts me to write now is that a similar inability to communicate wasted everyone’s time when this week I drove somebody to a hospital 20 miles away for a minor operation. The idea was that the patient would make his way back home on the bus. It turned out that this option was frowned upon, and the operation was therefore cancelled. If only we had known beforehand it would have been possible to re-arrange everything. So a simple question and answer session beforehand would have obviated a needless journey and a medical team’s waste of time. The question beforehand ‘how will you get home?’ was all that was necessary.
It seems to me that this small example is symptomatic of what is happening now, with information about Coronavirus being kept within silos (think of Leicester) and perhaps a proprietorial attitude still influencing who gets to know what. I think this institutional issue will only be resolved in a healthy way (from the individual’s point of view) by patients being equipped with the right questions to ask on their initial encounter with the system. This requires more education about how to interact with the NHS. It is always assumed that such an education is unnecessary—simply because it’s there, free at the point of delivery. Perhaps with better education about how to use it, there would also be less waste—by people who take it too much for granted. Such a suggestion will not fit with this government’s philosophy, which sees competition as the key to better ‘efficiency.’ What lessons for the NHS will be learned I wonder in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis? Despite our general acclaim for the NHS, the black shadows of vultures of more privatisation will be circling. Then the only questions you’ll be able to ask (online, to a machine) will all be predetermined and probably won't include 'how will you get home.' That after all implies some kind of responsibility for what happens afterwards.
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