For the health of the nation (2) 76

 Continued from below.

The socialist Government here has spent excessively on grandiose building schemes in the last 10 years. Queen Elizabeth Hospital – meant to cost £291 million and £560 million is the official figure now, with the Taxpayers Alliance figure running at £627 million, the extra costs hidden in many disparate small reports. It is half rebuilt in the shape of three bigger-than-enormous tubes on top of a hill.  Everything about them is so huge that the human being is a mere streptococcus next to three giant macaroni. The tubes are entirely empty except for builders. 

In fact everything is huge in the NHS.  It costs about 100 billion pounds a year to run [for a population about one-sixth that of the USA].  I note that your US plan is not just National but indeed Universal. The thing is already bloated in name.  Here, Mr Brown, our Prime Minister, ‘invests’ ever larger funds in it.  It is the third or fifth biggest employer in the world (depending on what source you read) after the Indian railways and the Chinese army. The NHS employs 1.3 million people. Our socialist government says that it was elected because people want it to ‘invest’ in the NHS and the people were prepared to be taxed more to do this. Budgets do indeed go up every year, much being spent on doctors salaries. This is in keeping with the original deal to make doctors join in. Bevan, the Labour Minister for Health in 1948, said he had to ‘stuff their mouths with gold’ to secure the consultants’ support for the NHS. Brown has continued the alliance between the state and the medical profession and doctors can be well paid. But I have doubts about the wisdom of concentrating such power and privilege in any hands. Milton Friedman wrote that any concentration of power was a threat to freedom, even when done for the best of reasons. It would be better for democracy if the doctors were a bit hostile to the establishment and therefore had an incentive to criticise the Government policy on health. 

Anyway, somewhere around this Brave New Building, the QE, are the buildings belonging to the old QE. The new QE is not in use yet but we had to use the new QE’s car park.  After the parking hurdle (£3.30), we slithered past endless excavations and piles of building materials, through ice and snow, and eventually found the main entrance to the old hospital by sneaking round some iron railings, parked cars and bins, into a side alley, tripping across tarmac spotted with chewing gum, past the smoker-bevy at the door and through apologetic glass doors set round a corner within the tiny corner of the alley. Human beings are not important in the scheme and must sneak into hospital. In our fascist-socialist society, the architectural arrangements are bound to make ordinary individuals feel small and displaced. Once in, we walked for miles along dirty lino floors and up five double flights of stairs and eventually found ourselves in E5.

All along the way, the corridors were decorated with very elderly ladies on gurneys and wheelchairs in thin hospital gowns and without their teeth. They were like statues set at intervals to decorate the way, except that one expects regular statues to be Romans, or great men looking up at the horizon as if thinking about what humanity could achieve. Instead, these old ladies were parked, forgotten, and looking only forlornly down.

That brings another point to mind.  The Labour Government loves management-speak and targets.  You go to Emergency hospitals and they clock you in, for example, and then put you in a consulting room as quickly as possible so that, officially, you only waited a short time. Then you usually wait for ages in the consulting room, instead of the waiting room.  You may get the offer of an operation on the day you said you were going on holiday so that, when you turn down the appointment, you are a statistic offered treatment within the target time. The Labour Party introduced the fiendishly complicated ‘Performance Indicator Framework’ and these targets and measurements are universally loathed throughout the country and distort management of treatment. According to our populist papers, patients are often parked for days in corridors.  I note that your Obama/Biden plan requires hospitals to collect and report health care cost and quality data”.  The devil will be in the detail.

Of course, as you will have already guessed, there were no doctors available at E5 and the nurses room was full of nurses and clerks but they were unable to help because we were not admitted until the doctor had seen us. The waiting room was so grubby that the thick dust under the chairs was a greyer echo of the snow outside. 

However, I think the old hospital had once looked rather better. In fact, lino is made of linseed and is naturally antiseptic and, in my childhood, hospital corridors were always burnished by a wandering lino-polisher and the linoleum gleamed and smelt of cleaning chemical. The old QE also had those funny bits of thick brass door furniture on heavy wooden doors that, if maintained, shout out that they are solidly engineered British Empire door knobs. But that was then. Here we were in the dirt. The radio blared out rap until my son testily pulled the plug out. A little lady was brought in to add statuary interest and another on a trolley parked outside in the corridor.  And my son paced up and down clutching his head in pain. When we asked whether a doctor were coming or if we could have a pain-killer, we were told that the doctors were all at the side of someone who was bleeding. Of course, this made us feel guilty for asking. We are all guilty in socialism, even if we suffer, because we cannot compete with the abject misery of everyone else.  When I asked one of the doctors, who eventually called in for a moment, if she would just refer us to the private hospital, she said she had never done such a thing and would not be prepared to. (From his office, my husband telephoned the private hospital for us but they insisted that a doctor must refer us: Catch 22.)

[To be continued]


Posted under Articles, Commentary by Jillian Becker on Friday, January 9, 2009

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