The NHS: the failure of a dream

What does it take for a woman of my profession, my level of education, my acute awareness of the need for a free health service for the nation, to begin writing a blog post about the state of the NHS? Sheer disappointment and frustration. The kind of simmering anger that leaves me shaking and so upset that my only recourse is to write and hope someone is listening.

I love the idea of the NHS. When Obama was pushing through his health reform bill in the past couple of years and I watched some Americans berate the apparent evil of the socialist system championed by the UK, I was incensed. The idea that anyone, regardless of their income or social status, can receive free healthcare is beautiful. The idea that you can be treated immediately and not have to worry whether you have insurance to cover the cost of illness or injury is beautiful.

The NHS saves lives, I know this. I know that some people receive excellent standards of healthcare, are treated as individuals, are given dignity in their final moments. I know this all to be true. I have family members who work for the NHS and I know how hard they work to provide the best care for their patients. I wouldn’t change the system. The big stuff, the saving lives, the emergency services, the serious illness care providers – they do an amazing job every day.

Why do I feel so disappointed? Let me take you back to what I said earlier: the idea that anyone, regardless of their income or social status, can receive free healthcare is beautiful. I am disappointed because I know that this is just not true. Where I live, it is not true.

I registered for a new GP last week. For the past three years, I have been attending a doctor’s surgery for various issues related to women’s health and the lack of care, the lack of attention to patient need and the lack of empathy with my healthcare issue has left me feeling like there is no solution but to vote with my feet. I don’t want to be greeted by receptionists who bark at me and ignore me when I stand at the window. I don’t want to speak to a doctor who spends more time looking at his computer screen than me. I don’t want to have to explain time and time again what my health issues are because the doctor cannot remember, or doesn’t care to. I don’t want to feel like I am burdening the doctor, or wasting his time. I certainly don’t want him to make assumptions about my private life, my views on having children (because if I say I don’t want children, I mean it and don’t want to be told I will change my mind).

Most of all, I don’t want to watch people who don’t speak English very well yet be spoken to like they are idiots. I don’t want to hear their medical problems discussed behind the reception desk and I don’t want them to wait an hour, not understanding what the English speakers all know because we have heard it discussed: that doctor is always an hour behind. I don’t want them to have someone roll their eyes at them because they are still learning to communicate.

This service, so built on ideals, fails on the fundamentals, the basics of care.

If I can’t visit my GP and leave feeling that someone has made the effort to understand my health issues, then other people in my area – one that is undeniably poor – stand no chance at all. The horrible irony is that even though I choose to live here in this area, I am literate enough to research other GP surgeries, call them and be spoken to like a human being and fill out the forms required easily. I can leave. Not everyone can. Choice means nothing to some people. Some people do not have access to choice.

When I hear on the news that funding may be diverted from these poorer areas, I shudder at the thought. What happens to frontline care, primary care, when it is already struggling to provide a public service? Does it mean that the GP who can’t be bothered to print out a hospital referral letter while you are in the room, directing you instead to pick it up tomorrow (the idea that you might be at work being irrelevant, of course), is not able to refer you at all?

The prospects are bleak when you look at it like this, but I can’t help thinking that, like in a school, an organisation is only as good as the people who work in it. I can’t expect that my health issue will resolve itself, even with the correct care – I have done enough research to know women’s health is still somewhat behind the times. What I want to hope for in a caring profession, is some care. Is it wrong to expect some gentleness, some people skills from the healthcare professionals I visit? As a teacher, I am expected to remember that the individual child is the most important factor in my classroom. My students are not cattle, so I do not expect a fellow public sector worker, no matter how tired or frustrated, to treat me like another body in the room with some complaint that can’t be that important anyway.

Ultimately, it’s not just about the lack of funding for the NHS and somehow, I wish it was. Then I could blame the figures and not think that some people who work for the NHS are responsible for me feeling humiliated every time I visit my GP. I don’t want to feel this way about something I believe in. I am easily pleased: treat me like a human being and my loyalty will be permanent and real.

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One comment

  1. Kaj

    I started reading your blog having read your interesing article on Tottenham. As a medical student, in our teaching, there is now a lot more focus on patient centred care, including the emphasis on treating patients as actual people, which wasn’t always the case and so I do think the next generation of doctors, hopefully, will be different and the experiences that you have had will be no more. It is a shame there wasn’t more emphasis on patient care especially for doctors coming from other parts of the world.

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