Going Private

Sixteen days ago, my wife found a significant lump on her breast. She went into our local doctor’s (where she works as a receptionist) and had it examined. She was told it might just be a benign cyst, but the doctor contacted the Norwich Hospital, and put her on a 14-day referral for investigation. Under government guidelines, potential breast cancer is considered serious, so nobody is allowed to wait more than fourteen days to be seen and examined.

When the fourteen days were up, she phoned the hospital to ask why she had not received an appoinment. They immediately blamed the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that they had to reduce numbers in the clinics, so there were delays approved by the health authority. The told her she might be seen in late December, possibly later than that.

Over two weeks of worrying about a breast lump was beginning to take its toll. Lack of sleep, constant concern, and genuine worry that it might be a cancerous growth spreading out of control.

I decided to telephone the local private hospital, Spire Norwich. As much as it went against all my principles to seek help in the private sector, I was not prepared to let Julie carry on like this for another six to twelve weeks.

The lady apologised that the Wednesday clinic was full. However, if I was prepared to drive to Genesis Healthcare in Newmarket, fifty miles south, they could see my wife on Tuesday. Of course, I accepted the appointment, for 5:10 pm today.

The clinic is very swish, and cost £7,000,000 to set up. I was not allowed to go in with Julie, due to Covid-19 concerns, so had to sit in the car out in the car park. She was welcomed, given a latte coffee, and all of her details were taken by an impeccably polite receptionist. When she was shown in to see the doctor, she was chaparoned by a female nurse, and put at her ease. Following a short examination, the doctor sent her for a mammogram on both breasts. Just in case.

The good news was that he was 99.9% certain it was caused by ‘fatty lumps’. Whilst that may sound a little embarrassing, who cares? It is not cancer. He will arrange to confirm his diagnosis with an ultrasound in around three week’s time, at Norwich Hospital. That will be free of charge, under the NHS.

Julie was in there just over one hour. The charge for that? £460 ($610 US)

Relief all round, nothing sinister.

We had the money to pay the bill. We don’t regularly change our old cars, do not take foreign holidays, or spend money on unnecessary luxuries.

Nobody is a greater defender of the NHS than me. I spent one-third of my life working as an EMT, and my wife still works for the NHS now. But the current problems mean that for the first time ever, it let us down. Consider that the doctor today is a consultant at Norwich Hospital, in his regular job. So too the nurse, and the specialist radiographer. All three were trained at the expense of the Britsh taxpayer, yet the system allows them to work the minimum hours for the NHS, then add lucrative hours at private clinics such as Genesis, to boost their already substantial incomes.

We have both paid into the NHS all our lives, but have been forced to dip into savings to get some treatment that was not offered under the self-imposed rules.

That goes against the grain for me, and makes me seriously doubt the future of the NHS as we once knew it.

A Good Result

Some services in our NHS had to be put on hold when all the resources were being diverted to fighting the pandemic. But they are now coming back, slowly but surely. One of those is the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme. Because of my age, I was invited to take part, and when I agreed, they sent me a home test kit.

It is not the most pleasant thing to have to do, even though it is painless, and non-invasive. Basically, you have to poo into a container that you provide yourself. (A disposable one of course) Then you take a small stick from the plastic vial you have been sent, and rub it around your ‘deposit’ until the marked area is covered. Then it is put back into the vial, secured in its transit envelope, and posted back (free of charge) to the testing centre.

As with any test, the wait can be worrying. If they discover something amiss, it will mean a procedure where a large tube is inserted into your bowel, via your bum of course! That initial test might be followed by scans, or other procedures deemed necessary.

My result came back in the post today, after a week. I was very happy to get the all-clear, and require no more testing at the moment. They will send me another test kit in two years from now.

Such screening programmes are worth participating in. They are catching potentially fatal diseases before they have had time to take a hold on your body, and reducing the need for subsequent surgery and other therapies. And they are free too.

Yet again, I have to say we are lucky to have the NHS.

UPDATE: Covid Comes Knocking

Following my post yesterday, things moved fast. Julie persisted online, and was eventually offered a test at a place outside of Norwich, 25 miles away. As she was too unwell to drive, I took her there.

They sent a Q-Code to her phone, and she had to take that, and a photo I.D. She also had to provide the registration number of her car, so we took her car instead of mine. The test offered was in a time window from 5:30 PM until 6:00 PM, and we could not be late, or might not get the test.

One of the large Park and Ride bus car parks north of Norwich has been closed up, and completely taken over as a government test centre. It was signposted with special signs once you turned off the main road. On arrival, it is a strange experience. Large signs instruct you to KEEP WINDOWS CLOSED. Wearing a mask on a hot day in a closed up car was uncomfortable, but didn’t last long.

Once you are in the queue of cars, it doesn’t take long to get to the front. Then you are waved to a spot by one of the staff, and they hold up printed signs, so they don’t have to speak to you.


Then you are directed to drive under a temporary shelter. A young man stepped forward with more cards.


The number to be called turned out to be a mobile phone he was carying, and he stood next to the car chatting to Julie on his phone, telling her what to do. A sealed test kit was then dropped into the car through a partially open window, and we had to move up into another space, where Julie had to open the bag, and remove the items to test herself. After swabbing her throat and nostril, she had to seal the container into two bags. The man took a reading of the Q-Code again, and scanned the barcode on the test kit, then we were told to drive up to a cabin by the exit.

A young woman holding a large plastic bin appeared with more signs.


When this was done, she removed the barrier, and we were on out way home. The whole thing took ninety minutes from home and back again, and operated very smoothly. It had a strange dystopian feel to it all though, like being extras in a science-fiction film. A note included in the test kit said the reuslts would be available within 48 hours, and would be sent to Julie’s phone and email.

This morning at 9 am, she received a text that her test result was NEGATIVE.

The whole experience left me thinking about a few things. For one, the NHS really did well, after the shaky start when we were offered a test 100 miles away. So you have to keep trying online, and tests are available locally, until 8:00 PM. But then I thought about people who don’t have a car. They are not allowed to walk into that test centre, and no public transport can get you to it either. And what if they are not online, have no access to any computer, and don’t have a mobile phone? There must be some other way of course, but I bet it is not easy to arrange.

For those readers outside of the UK, remember this is all totally free of charge for us here.

So no complaints from me.

Virus Deaths: Racism?

I am reblogging this from my other site, as I find the whole thing very worrying and disturbing.


I have been reading and watching the growing number of disturbing reports in Britain that claim the fact that virus deaths are disproportionate in people from backgrounds that include African, West Indian, and the Indian sub-continent are ‘deliberate negligence’. There is a Facebook group of British Muslims who openly accuse the NHS and the government of allowing their relatives to die, because of their ethhnicity. One member even called it ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Now I see on the BBC that the new Labour Party leader is calling for a public enquiry into this, and it is to be led by Baroness Lawrence, a black woman who is famous for campaigning for justice for her murdered son many years ago.

I have to say that I personally find these accusations to be appalling. I worked in the NHS for 22 years, and know many who still do, including my own wife. I…

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Breaking News: Boris has the virus. (Or not)

The BBC has just broadcast a ‘home video’ of our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, saying he has to ‘self-isolate’ in his official residence.

According to him, he has had a ‘high temperature’, and a ‘persistent cough’. After testing, it was confirmed that he has the virus.

During the broadcast of three minutes or so long, he didn’t cough once. He didn’t even try to suppress a cough. And he looked very well, not at all like someone suffering from a high temperature.

According to the news report, he was ‘tested at Ten Downing Street by NHS staff’. Presumably some of those same overworked NHS staff run off their feet caring for seiously ill people in nearby London hospitals. And using test kits that are supposedly in ‘short supply’. And look how fast his results came back! Same day service, it would seem.

One of his cronies took to the telephone, stating, “This shows no matter how high you are, whether a Prince, or Prime Minister, nobody is safe from contracting this virus”.

That short statement from former Conservative Prime Minister Iain Duncan-Smith says it all. Tell the plebs the Prince has got it. Then tell us that Johnson has got it, and that’s supposed to make us feel better when one of our untested relatives dies in isolation.

My message to both Boris and Prince Charles is that I am not falling for it. Not until I see your bodies being carried out in coffins for incineration.

And even then, I want to look inside to make sure.

The Real Cost Of Private Medicine

After my post about going to see the doctor yesterday, my dear blogging friend Kim sent me a link to a very interesting video. This may be of great interest to British readers.

Few of us here know much about private health care, although a percentage of people do pay into a scheme to get preferential, or faster treatment. Having a pet might make you realise just how expensive treatment and drugs can be these days, as I have found out with Ollie’s trips to the Vet.

In this short film, random people on a British street are asked to guess the cost of medical treatments and drugs in America, for example an asthma inhaler.

Their answers are very interesting.

Given the recent publicity about government ministers considering significant changes to the NHS and overall healthcare provision in this country, this is something we all need to be aware of.

In the UK, an ambulance callout costs you £0 in medical bills. The birth of your child costs you £0 in medical bills. In the USA, it’s a different story.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Going to the Doctor.

I know I did a post on Thinking Aloud yesterday, but I woke up thinking about something this morning, so you get an extra one.

When I was young, my Mum used to take me to the doctor. But I had to be quite bad before she went that far. Not that we had to pay anything, because we had the NHS. That had come into being five years before I was born, and the working-class people where I lived in London were incredibly grateful for it. So my Mum would not bother a doctor with anything trivial, as she had too much respect for this new service.

The system was very different back then. No need to telephone for an appointment, just turn up for morning or evening surgery, and wait your turn. Most people where I lived didn’t have a telephone anyway, so appointments wouldn’t have worked. We sat on long benches around the walls of the waiting room. The first person to arrive sat closest to the door leading through to the doctor, and everyone took their place in turn, with not a thought of queue-jumping.

The only distraction provided for those waiting was a stack of old magazines piled on a small table in the centre of the room. I saw my first ever copies of National Geographic, along with the familiar Reader’s Digest, and some newspapers left behind by anyone who had already left. There were no screens offering TV or recorded messages, and definitely no toys for the amusement of children. We were expected to behave, and we did.

Nobody talked to each other either, even though many of the faces were familiar, and some of those in the waiting room were well-known to us. It wasn’t done to discuss your ailments in that situation, or to ask anyone else why they were there to see the doctor. When it got to our turn, the doctor opened the door and we walked in. There was no calling-out of our name, and no mention of whether or not he knew us. His office was like a study, and he sat at his desk with a serious demeanour. Once he had heard the story, and perhaps made some examination, he would either tell us what to do, or give out a prescription for the necessary medication, which was also free then.

Everyone called him ‘Doctor’, even though his name was on a sign on his desk. He was better educated than anyone we knew, and older than my Mum, and most of the others in the waiting room. His word was never challenged or questioned, and his advice or treatment was always acted upon. He was a doctor, so that was enough for us. We looked on him with some reverence, and gave him respect, and our best manners at all times. In return, he was polite, caring, and efficient. He was also rather condescending and superior, but I didn’t realise that at the time. Once he had finished with us, profuse thanks were in order, and even when I was still very young, I was taught to say “Thank you, doctor”, before we left his consulting room.

Things are very different now.

Getting an appointment can be exceptionally difficult in some areas of Britain, especially in the big cities. Most doctor’s surgeries have three or four doctors working there, to cope with the increased workload. They also employ skilled nurses to deal with minor injuries and illnesses, as well as technicians to take blood, or receive samples. At our local doctor’s we no longer have to go anywhere else to collect drugs or medicines, as they have a pharmacy attached, operated by three full-time staff. You can even get minor surgical procedures done there, which saves travelling to the hospital like we used to have to. In my opinion, the expansion of such facilities into larger clinics has been a positive move, and the doctors seem to be younger and more dedicated too.

But the most noticeable change has been in the attitude of the patients. Despite the provision of toys and games, children run around like crazy all over the place. Their parents stare into their phones, generally ignoring the bad behaviour. And people argue. They shout at the receptionists, complain that they haven’t bee seen quick enough, and debate their treatment with the doctor, based on some rubbish they have read on Facebook, or looked up online.

Despite being able to telephone, or book an appointment time using the Internet, many still just walk in and expect to be seen immediately. The last sixty years have imbued the people of this country with a sense of entitlement, and a worrying arrogance. They threaten staff, complain to local authorities, and take to Social Media to moan about the service at the local doctor’s.

They should think themselves lucky that we have such a system funded my small National Insurance payments, and backed up by huge amounts of public money. They are not old enough to remember a time when you queued patiently, sometimes for hours, and gave respect to the people who were treating you.

My conclusion is that if those people can get to the doctor’s just to be rude and horrible, they are not sick enough to be there in the first place.

A Hospital Visit

On Monday afternoon, I had an appointment at the eye clinic in Norwich.

I have Glaucoma, and the beginnings of cataracts, so I have been attending eye clinics since I still lived in London. To reduce the pressure in my eyes, I take a twice-daily eye drop of a beta-blocker medicine, called Timolol. I cannot do anything about the cataracts, and they will eventually require surgery.

I drove up to Dereham, and caught a bus into Norwich. The bus travel was free, as I have had a free bus pass since I was 62 years old. That is funded by the government from the National Insurance payments I made when I was working, and I can potentially go anywhere in the UK using it, with no charge at all.
(But only on a scheduled bus, not coaches or trains)

A short walk from the bus station to the clinic, and I was booked in and waiting with other people for the tests. The first one was a conventional eye test, with each eye covered in turn. Following that, I had a ‘Visual Fields’ test, where I had to use a ‘clicker’ to record various lights appearing on a screen in front of me. I then had to wait in a room, until I was called in for the next procedure.

This involves a localised liquid anesthetic, dropped into my eye, and another drug that dilates my pupils. After that takes, I have to sit with my head in a device, as a small brush is moved into contact with my eyeball, measuring the pressure inside as it touches it. I don’t enjoy this part, although it is not painful. And as usual today, the technician had to physically keep my eyelid open with his fingers, to get an accurate reading. That was followed by a painless photograph of the back of my eye, the results looking something like a photo of the planet Mars.

A quick chat followed, and after ninety minutes spent in the clinic, I was allowed to leave, until next year. The results will be sent to the ‘main man’, at the hospital. If he needs to follow-up, I will get a letter.

The point of this post is that all of this was ‘free’, including the bus travel both ways. ( 40 miles, round trip) My lifetime of contributing to National Insurance through my salaries had completely covered the cost, including the monthly eye drops. And even if I had been unable to work, and had never contributed, it would still be provided, free of charge.
This is the NHS, which with all it faults, is still a wonderful institution.

The next time my friends who live in countries without a good healthcare system are thinking about their health insurance costs, and the price of drugs in that country, maybe they should consider campaigning for something similar.

An Eye-Opening Experience

In praise of the NHS.

I had to attend for my annual eye clinic appointment today (Tuesday). They have moved the clinic from the main hospital in Norwich, to a specialist facility close to the city centre. I got a bus in, and arrived in good time. I have to go, as I have Glaucoma. This is a condition where the fluid in the eye builds up pressure, and can be a cause of blindness, if not treated. I use eye drop medication on a regular basis to suppress this pressure, so have to have an annual check, to make sure it is still under control.

When you are there, they also carry out a normal eye test, a visual fields check, and take photos of the inside of your eyes. It takes about an hour to have all three tests done, as well as the pressure test. That involves anaesthetic eye drops, so that a probe can be pushed against your eyeball, to measure the pressure. Then more drops widen your pupils, so that they can look inside with a magnifying lens, and an incredibly bright light. None of it is painful, but it is quite weird to have to be conscious, and watch something coming straight at your eyes like that.

When I arrived at the new clinic today, I was suitably impressed. Almost no queue, smart surroundings, and a very calm and soothing atmosphere. It was obviously a private facility, easy to tell that as soon as the receptionist welcomed you on arrival. The young lady who did the general test asked me to take home a customer satisfaction form, so I asked her if it was a private organisation. She told me that it was a privately-funded venture, directly employed by the Eye Department of Norwich Hospital. As their waiting list was so large now, and they do not have enough specialist doctors, they have decided to outsource these essential annual checks.

I moved on to see the optometrist. Not a doctor, but a Glaucoma specialist and diagnostic expert. He was very professional, and friendly too. Happy to chat about anything, and taking his time over the procedures. He discussed his findings at some length, and told me that he would be writing a report to the hospital consultant, appraising him of the results, and his own opinions. After just over an hour, I was finished and back out on the street, heading for the bus station.

For those of you who have asked me about this issue, and shown much appreciated concern, there was some good news. The optometrist advised me that a new prescription for my spectacles would alleviate most of my current symptoms. Although I have cataracts visible in both eyes, only the right one is big enough to be considered for surgery, and not just at the moment. The pressures were normal, and if anything, the left eye is still virtually 20-20, with only the right eye causing any concern. So, if I can avoid surgery, and improve my eyesight by buying new spectacles, then it is all good news.

It is worth noting that this was all 100% free of charge, covered by my years of paying a small amount into the NHS via National Insurance deducted from my salary. If for some reason I never paid into this, (as a full-time housewife, for example) it would still be free. Even the bus to and from the hospital was free, courtesy of my senior citizen bus pass. And although I will have to pay something for the new spectacles, the optician’s eye test will also be free, as I am a pensioner. The continuing need for eye drops will also cost me nothing, as I am over 60.

So, well done, the NHS. You are very good indeed, at least as far as I can see.

(Apologies for the shameless puns, in both the title, and the last line)

Something positive

Continuing my quest to stay positive in 2017, I am happy to report something tangible that helps me along my way.

I recently received a letter from the local Health Authority, requesting me to attend for a free screening check. As I am fast-approaching that worrying age of 65, it seems that I was considered to be ripe for preventive checks, organised by our British National Health Service. On this occasion, the offer was a free ultrasound scan, to determine whether or not I had an aortic aneurysm. This weakening of the major blood vessel in the body can be hard to diagnose from symptoms, and is generally fatal if undetected.

Of course, being me, I was wondering whether or not to go. If I had one, did I really want to know? The outcome might result in a major operation, one that in itself does not always guarantee survival of the surgery, or success of the procedure afterwards. But Julie was keen for me to have the test. After all, her own father died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm, in 2012. And he had no idea that it was there.

On Friday afternoon, I headed off to our small local hospital in Dereham. This is a community facility where clinics are run for tests and checks. It has no emergency department, no operating theatres, or maternity provisions. It is also less than three miles from Beetley, so exceptionally handy for me to drive to. A nice young man took me into the examination room. I got onto the bed there, and just had to raise my shirt. He placed some gel on my abdomen, and pushed a probe around my skin a few times. After a few minutes, he declared that I had a very healthy aorta, and it showed no signs of increasing in size.

He went on to tell me that it is highly unlikely that I will ever develop an aneurysm there, and I need no longer concern myself about that condition. A non-invasive, painless procedure, and I didn’t even have to get undressed! One less medical problem to ever worry about, and I was back home in time to take Ollie for his walk. At a time when our NHS is all over the news; facing criticism, lack of funding, and fears about its future, this was a shining example of a progressive public health service.

Now that’s what I call something positive.