I must say, as a British citizen familiar with the National Health Service, I found Carol Gould’s recent PJM article praising the NHS quite fascinating.
From an emotional point of view, I could see why she praised them because they saved her friend’s life. (However, surely this is the job of an intensive care unit.)
But when I read further and realized that a major part of her praise came because the health care was “free,” it enraged me. Gould is an American who has lived in Great Britain for many years; my family and I have used the NHS system on a regular basis for over 40 years.
First and foremost, NHS health care is not free: every working person in the UK pays National Insurance whether they use the system or not. In addition, recently the British government has imposed measures to penalize those who choose to opt for private medical care, despite the fact that in many areas, NHS waiting lists for operations are too long.
The NHS has garnered very poor reviews where cancer treatment is concerned. Many of my parents’ friends have died because the NHS has failed to diagnose cancer early enough to be successfully treated.
The NHS is a particularly expensive beast to run and “cost” determines the treatment it offers.
My experience with NHS care, or what one of my friends referred to as “torture,” is utterly different from the almost fairytale description of Carol’s friend’s treatment. I broke my ankle and was rushed to “accident and emergency” at Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospital in London (also a teaching hospital) at around 9:30 p.m. I was left waiting for about an hour and a half, in a cold corridor on a hard wood chair. Finally I was sent for an x-ray. Only when they saw the x-ray did they realize I had actually broken my ankle on both sides, whereby my foot was actually dislocated from my leg. Then they asked me if I wanted painkillers. They proceeded to set my foot into a temporary cast. At 3:00 a.m., I was finally admitted to the Nightingale Ward — before being taken for another x-ray to see if my ankle was correctly set in the temporary plaster. It was not and it was painfully re-set again. I can only describe the nursing care in this ward as the worst I have ever encountered. Indifferent, they left me lying helpless, without the cover of so much as a sheet, naked on the hospital bed, with the door wide open for all to see for almost half an hour. Someone did bring me a robe. This was thrown onto a chair, out of my reach. This was a common pattern: putting things out of my reach. This included bowls of water to wash myself with and food to eat. Their attitude was callous. I was thankful that I had family and friends to sit with me and help me.
Although I was on the “priority” list for my operation, I waited almost 24 hours with “nil by mouth” before finally being told I was being taken down to the operating room. Just before we left the ward I told the nurse I needed to go to the toilet; she told me to wait until I got down to the operating theater and ask again. When I asked in the pre-operating room, the anesthetist was annoyed at the question and proceeded to have an argument with the nurse, while I was lying on the trolley with my bladder bursting. Finally he left and she brought me a bedpan. As I said, my bladder was very full so the bedpan was brimming. She snatched it away from beneath me, balancing it precariously on the edge of the bed. As she turned, she knocked the bedpan, which sent it crashing to the floor. Urine splashed across the whole pre-operating theater including up the medicine fridge. She started blaspheming and blaming me at this point, as the anesthetist looked aghast through a window. She proceeded to soak the urine up with paper towels. No disinfectant was used. Her lack of hygiene was shocking. At this point I feared for my life and hoped the operating theater was cleaner. If I could have walked, I would have! This was just one incident amongst many that I encountered until I managed to escape the clutches of these appalling nurses.
There are numerous examples of the shocking care dished out by the NHS. The whole system is a lottery. A poor guy was starved to death because of a lack of communication between the doctors and nurses who were treating him. He went 26 days without food.
There are many complaints about the hospitals’ lack of cleanliness in the NHS. In fact, Richard Branson of the Virgin empire has also recently become the vice president of the Patients Association to get involved in trying to improve standards in the NHS.
This is the experience of Lord Mancroft, who was actually lucky that he could afford to escape this stressful NHS experience.
Senior nurses can make life-or-death decisions without consulting a doctor. I have to say I would not trust any of the nurses I had when my ankle was broken to make that kind of decision. Most of them didn’t even know how to work the heart monitor.
I am pleased that Carol’s friend had a positive experience with the NHS. Let’s face it: the law of averages says that somebody has to.
As I said earlier, oftentimes it is a lottery whether you get good treatment or not. It’s not a guarantee.