There are always stories in the media about the poor state of the Heath Service in this country. We have all heard the sorry sagas of unacceptable waiting times, botched operations, and postcode-lottery drug administration. You could be forgiven for believing that the NHS is on the verge of collapse; swamped by high demand, pressurised by an increased immigrant population, employing staff who have no interest in the job. This is not my experience though, and I feel that someone needs to put the opposite view, just for a change.
In any organisation as large as the British National Health Service, there will always be errors. It is impossible to provide a service envied the world over, without accepting the reality of mistakes being made occasionally, and the odd member of staff who is not up to the job. I do not wish to detract from individual cases of tragedy, or to comment on them. Instead, I would like to offer an overview of where it does work, instead of criticising every tiny aspect of where it does not. I must start by stating that I know of nowhere else where a system like this exists, and works. We pay a relatively small amount into our National Insurance Scheme, and receive huge benefits in return. Those not working, or unable to pay, receive exactly the same care, free of charge.
Of course, I would like to see an end to prescription charges, still paid in England. I would also like to see a return to completely free dental care. With the right party in government, this would all be achievable. Despite this, the care provided really is exceptional. Those of you who are healthy enough not to need to visit a doctor, hospital, or other medical service provider may wonder what all the fuss is about. One day, you will find out. It is naturally more difficult to provide a good service in areas of high population density. Or is it? When I lived in London, I could normally see a GP within a week. If that wasn’t satisfactory, I could sit in the surgery, and would be seen after the other appointments. Attending a clinic in one of London’s busiest hospitals, University College, I was seen in under an hour. I only waited one week for the appointment to arrive too. At the same hospital, I waited just fifteen minutes for a blood test, and the results were with my doctor in four days. By my standards, by any standards, that’s very good.
Here in Norfolk, despite constant publicity to the contrary, it is even better. My GP has contacted me at home in the evenings, something unheard of in London. The out-patient appointments at the Norwich and Norfolk hospital are efficient, and thorough too. The staff are friendly and committed, and patients are never left to feel that they are an intrusion. The consultants and junior doctors take time to explain your case, and their treatment, and interact with you as if you are an adult, who wants to know what is going on. It is true that the regional Ambulance Service has a poor record. Given the legacy of poor management, under-funding, and the sheer physical geography of this region, that is understandable, if not excusable. The whole county has only two main roads, few dual-carriageways, and no motorway. Remote villages, weather problems, and the logistics of running a service covering six counties, all adds up to a problem that needs to be solved.
There are few major hospitals in this county. The ones that do exist are constantly criticised, with little balanced reporting of their struggle against the problems that they have to deal with. But there is little mention of the many good things. Mobile clinics, that remove the difficulty for patients of having to travel into the towns and cities for treatment. Sensible use of smaller hospitals, to provide out of hours GP clinics, geriatric care, and other community-based services. Widespread use of mobile community nurses, offering visits and treatment in the patients’ own home. We have had occasion to attend Eye clinics and Diabetic clinics, and my step-daughter has received very good service from the Maternity Department and Midwife team. Nothing seems to be too much trouble. Telephone calls to any branch of the NHS here are dealt with quickly and professionally. E mails are answered promptly, letters are sent out when due, and text message reminders of appointments are also commonplace.
I didn’t need the NHS for most of my life; but as soon as I did, it came through.
There is no magic wand to wave to make this service faultless. Given the increasing and ageing population, financial restraints, and new advances in medicine, it is always going to appear to be catching up. But it is undeniably good. And when you need it most, you will realise just how good it is.