We need to have a chat about the NHS

Lately, I’ve noticed – indeed been on the receiving end – of a new phenomenon.

Suddenly, all over middle England, those drifting gently to the right of a fairly rightish centreground keep popping up on my timelines or in my inbox – or even all over my telly – to tell me patient care in the NHS is not all that it should be.

They message me with glee (which feels quite unseemly) to tell me “13,000 patients died at 14 failing health trusts under Labour” What do I say to that, eh? Eh? “Explain yourself Marsh” they gloat “What do you have to say about your precious NHS now?

Leaving aside the fact it’s not true (Why would it be? I’m getting wholly accustomed to misleading stats from this government eagerly lapped up by the media”)

Can someone tell me when I became Defender General of the NHS? I missed the memo.

Anyone who’s read a single one of my NHS articles must surely know I am as critical of patient care, organisational waste and arrogant corporate cover-ups as I could be? What’s more, my criticism has been public and unreserved, believe me, a dangerous stance to take. They surely know I’ve suffered all of them myself, not once, but many, many times?

But here’s the thing. I’ve been writing about poor patient care for decades. I’ve been trying to uncover abuses and failures such as those so gleefully seized upon now for most of my life. As those at Mid Staffs and many other hospitals found out, no-one wanted to know. It was virtually impossible to expose poor patient care, let alone get anything done about it. It was hushed up, notes mysteriously disappeared, staff suffered sudden inexplicable memory loss.

How is it these partisans cared not a jot before? How is it I wrote to their very newspapers numerous times about exactly the failures they now adore, yet they were never interested.

Not, that is, until a Conservative government set about dismantling the NHS. Suddenly, in the Express (O’Flynn, you know who you are) Mail, and Telegraph the NHS is a “vast monolith”, out of control, unable to meet patients needs due to it’s vast public bloating.

The irony is, things have very much improved over the years, not worsened. There are close to a thousand NHS Trusts – Acute trusts, mental health trusts, foundation trusts – for 14 to be failing is tragic but perfectly likely. In every system there is the best, the worst and everything in between. Telling the families of those who experienced poor care or lost loved ones that the system is in fact remarkably functional won’t help a jot. Using their pain to poke lefties like me with is bloody disgusting.

Despite all it’s faults, I DO love the NHS, these point-scoring fools are right about that. Just swap with me one night when something bursts or ruptures and I am rushed screaming in a whirl of blue flashing lights to the nearest hospital. Swap as I am taken by gurney into A&E, swap as the highly trained staff recognise a genuine crisis and rush around me, intubating and injecting and setting up fluids. Swap with me as they calmly shout orders, acting as one, like a well oiled machine. Swap with me as they ease the dreadful pain and stabilise my heart. Swap with me as they rush me in a blur of sterile corridors towards an operating table and salvation. Swap as I thank any deity who may be listening that no-one is shoving a form in front of my dying face and asking about my “coverage” – worse still, refusing to save me if I have none”

Oh the NHS do acute better than anywhere. Make no mistake. Yes, I’ve sat in hospital beds so frustrated I wonder how I will make myself stay. I’ve suffered and witnessed atrocious care. All of those things can and must be addressed.

But they needed addressing 15 years ago too. They needed addressing under the Tories and they needed addressing under Labour. The self regulatory tradition of our NHS must be stamped on once and for all. Transparency must be flooded into every nook and cranny.

I’ve spent around a month a year in hospitals for most of my life. I’ve stayed across a string of Trusts, in-patient and out-patient, I’ve seen initiatives come and go, staffing slashed and staffing boosted. I’ve seen the very best and the very worst. Yet this new string of critics, with no more than a hip replacement and a dodgy knee between them, try to tell ME where the NHS fails and how that feels!!! The irony.

I love the NHS despite it’s faults. I love the tireless dedication of an undervalued, underpaid staff who should have given up and rolled over years ago, but somehow never do, whatever the provocation from Westminster. I love knowing that no matter what I need to stay alive, I will get it. Possibly a little later than I’d like, possibly with a little tussling along the way, but I’ll get it. I love that we regulate our medicines properly, unlike our drug-happy cousins in the US. I love that any drug or treatment will be available to me, based on need, regardless of cost. I love that I have a GP just down the road who knows me and sees us patients on the same day we call for an appointment.

I HATE the abuse and cruelty and utter helplessness of a bad nurse or poor doctor. Poor care has pushed me to the very brink of insanity. We have to do everything we can to make sure that no-one ever suffers again as I have, as many have, as those patients at those 14 trusts have.

But using the worst to imply there is no good is shameful. Actually shameful. Don’t clog up my timelines with any more of your opportunistic, ignorant, uninformed nonsense, I shall simply direct you to this post. And remember I told you this.

Perhaps, in a few years, we WILL lose the NHS. Perhaps it will no longer be free at the point of care, no longer cover all regardless of ability to pay. Perhaps it will have fractured into a thousand private clinics.

And if you every find yourself on that gurney at 3am I promise you, unreservedly, you will wonder why on earth we gave up one of the best, most equitable achievements in our history. For your sake, I do hope you live to regret it.

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