The independent London newspaper

Unique and inspiring – our NHS

05 July, 2018 — By John Gulliver

The Royal Free Hospital. Photo: © Julian Osley (cc-by-sa/2.0)

I EXPERIENCED a most humbling moment the other day when a grey-haired, middle-aged eminent doctor, who has saved hundreds of lives in his career working in intensive care hospital wards, smiled shyly and asked for my help.

While visiting my wife, who is critically ill in intensive care at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, he handed me a form, and wondered whether I would fill it in.

“It’s part of my revalidation,” he said, wryly.

I knew what he meant. Since the Shipman case all hospital doctors have to fill in various forms to be “revalidated” as doctors by the General Medical Council. These include questionnaires filled in by patients and relatives commenting on their efficiency and pleasant behaviour.

When this new rule was introduced several years ago I wasn’t too sure about its efficacy and wondered whether it was unfair to doctors, many of whom see it as a drudge but reluctantly go along with it.

In fact, perhaps unintended, it creates a bond between the practitioner and the patient and relatives.

The specialist in charge of my wife’s case is indeed a specialist – apart from an extraordinary caring attitude, and obviously someone who can see all the angles, as it were, in the changes taking place in the human body, he remains pleasant with an old world bedside manner I thought had gone out of fashion.

I filled in the form with effusive pleasantries about his attitude and manner.

He wasn’t the only practitioner who deserved praise – nurses, junior doctors, and the team of consultants, especially those part of the “infectious team”, all of them provide an extraordinary service.

I have long been an advocate of the National Health Service but spending hours by my wife’s side in her room – she has one to herself – and witnessing their level of dedication, gave me a deeper insight in to what I can only describe as the wonders of the service.

Last week in a TV programme about the 70th birthday of the NHS actors, playing the part of doctors, described it as a “socialist” phenomenon – and in many senses they are right.

A typical intensive care ward in a large hospital could never be replicated in private medicine – it would never be able to afford it.

The amazing intricate space age machines in my wife’s room must have cost tens of thousands of pounds – she is wired and largely controlled by machines recording changes constantly taking place.

Apart from her dedicated nurse, other nurses and doctors visit her throughout the day and night. If private hospitals thought there would be a return in such investment – and I cannot see how they would – the patient would surely have to pay thousands of pounds for a short stay.

This is where a state-owned institution like the NHS can do what other forms of privatised medicine cannot.

The NHS has many faults. Too many management tiers, a top-down approach to the staff, low-paid staff, not enough nurses in the general wards and, recently, what amounts to a dismantling of services as they become privatised.

The service has deteriorated in the past eight years under the last government and the current one.

This week is its 70th birthday. Ironically, I couldn’t see any bunting or notices at the Free – as if the birthday had nothing to do with the hospital. But it has. It is unique in the world. Something Britain gave to the world.

In some areas of care it has fallen behind the insurance-based services of other European countries but isn’t there something magical in the concept of the NHS being free at the point of delivery to everyone?


Share this story

Post a comment