It is sometimes hard to write certain things. The love letter that says goodbye, a poem to a dying relative. It may be hard to write but my Nan died at Basildon Hospital a few years ago. She made it through a tough operation after breaking her hip that doctors thought she might not survive itself. Sadly though within a few weeks she was taken from us. I wasn’t there in the end, I was too scared of that. I saw her a few days before and she told me that she didn’t want to go on anymore. She’d had enough of this life and was yearning for the next. I could tell from her eyes that she meant it and that the fight had gone from her.
I never thought I would hear her say those words, she was always a strong willed woman, well into her eighties. Given the revelations of the recent days and months I am forced to ask myself, was she one of the ‘avoidable’ deaths that they are talking about? Her death was not necessarily expected and as such it was still a shock. She had been in hospital before and recovered, indeed she always hated going into hospital and couldn’t wait to be home. Like so many others who have lost loved ones at these hospitals I am forced to confront that issue. I was not there every hour of every day, indeed for my sins I was not there enough. I recall when I did see her that she complained about having a dry, sore throat which made it difficult to eat or drink. Like many other family members when I hear this news I ask was this a result of neglectful treatment? I would look at the nurses.
They weren’t always happy bunnies but they also seemed very busy. I never saw any member of staff idly standing around. I once actually spent some time working at Basildon Hospital. I was in the Xray Department as one of those accursed paper chasers. You get to see a lot of the life of a hospital through those corridors as much of the patients come through there at some point. The vast majority of staff I met were dedicated, hardworking, honest people who were just interested in doing their job and helping people. For patients it often seemed the hardest thing was to get the rest that they needed to recover. Constantly being kept awake at night by the cries and yelps of those who were not mentally all there, whilst the day was punctuated by examinations. The sensationalist nature of the publication of this report highlights the most pressing point to me. That the one group of people in whose hands the NHS is unsafe are politicians. This seems like a well balanced report with some interesting insights.
Though I can’t honestly say I could explain how an ‘avoidable’ death is defined, Professor Keogh came across on news reports as a measured man who was committed to the NHS. Yet no sooner was his report in the hands of the politicians that it was being kicked around the Commons and airwaves as a political football. The blame game had started and no one wanted it to stick. The biggest issue I picked up from working in the NHS was how sick and tired the staff were by the constant tinkering and politicking by those at the top. Change is an ever constant but staff were tired of having to chase after this target or that new directive whenever management changed. They just simply wanted to do their jobs.
They were not mean or callous people, they just seemed overburdened. They knew what needed to be done but often it was the sheer deluge of patients and initiatives that meant it became a trudge. I thought David Cameron would be different on the NHS to other Conservative leaders. Given the tragic circumstances surrounding his son, I thought he might genuinely believe in a public funded NHS that provided a huge benefit to this country. Now I am not so sure. Part of me just suspects that we are being buttered up for yet another privatisation to wealthy friends of the powerful.
This is not purely a partisan thought as clearly Labour also have to take their share of the blame. Perhaps too many Labour MPs have become complacent on this issue as a natural Labour stronghold. With the recent G4S and Serco scandals perhaps no-one can be trusted on some of these vital public services. My concern with the politicians is that I am not convinced that they have the best interests of patients at heart. I believe in a publicly owned and funded NHS mainly for moral reasons. If a friend of mine or a neighbour is sick and needs help, I do not think that they should have their pockets felt before they get treatment. Equally I understand that the majority of money spent on a person’s health care is in the final stages of their life.
To me this essentially means that under a private system, business profits from the deaths of others. But I am not a fool. I understand that any system has to be paid for and that other countries may equally have a good or better way of doing things. I just don’t believe that any privatisation in England would actually lead to immense benefits for the people. We have a distinct Anglo-Saxon approach to many of these sell-offs. Look at the trains, utilities, banking. The few have made a lot of money whilst the benefits have been tangible and most certainly the failures have been the burden on our backs. Everything is in crisis these days. Not a week seems to go by without this scandal or that conspiracy being uncovered. It is sad to see my country in such a state.
From my brief period on this earth however I know that the answer is not simply to let the privateers run free. Unfortunately people die. My Nan died. I don’t know whether it could have been avoided or not. What I do know however it that she would have died sooner if it hadn’t been for the NHS in the first place. The principle is one to be proud of as a nation, but we should not be dogmatic about this. We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that any system is perfect and we are in danger of talking down the NHS when it continues to treat millions of people a year.