The NHS in 2017
I was unexpectedly absent for much of last week (more on that in a sec).
So first off, many thanks to my colleagues who covered the DR while I was away.
I’ll be in and out of these pages for the foreseeable while I a) play catch up and b) crack on with a couple of exciting projects I’m itching to let you in on (they’re not quite at that stage yet… stay tuned).
We’re lining up some great-looking content for the days ahead, including a couple of fiery interviews with two prominent voices in the Brexit debate.
Now, without going into the details, I found myself in hospital over the weekend.
I’m fine, by the way, but it does mean I’m not in a great position to wax lyrical about all the economic, political and financial madness.
Which is probably a blessing.
So instead, I’ll share a couple of thoughts on my impromptu interaction with that perennial hot button issue, the NHS.
Caveats first: this is anecdotal, based on a sample of one.
None of what I’m about to say is to deny there are issues with the health service. We read about them all the time.
But what we read about less often is when things work as they should. That goes not just for health, but most things.
Newspaper and telly editors thrive on presenting us with disaster and drama, which inevitably distorts our view of how things actually are.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell the kind of boring story most media would sneer at for not being “juicy” enough.
It is this: last week, when I needed the NHS, it was there for me and delivered exactly what I needed it to.
What started as a routine bug turned into something I couldn’t manage myself. After probably one day too many of equivocation, I admitted defeat, presented myself at the doctor’s and the system swung into action.
It was clear to the professionals that, yes, I couldn’t treat this myself. But also that they could, and should, and would.
They made sure I was OK, investigated the cause, treated me, and sent me back into society and back to work a lot quicker than I would have managed off my own bat.
Boring story, eh?
Yes, and that’s the point. The NHS should be boring. You want it to be there when you need it. Professional, effective and as frictionless as possible.
Luckily, on this occasion, for me, it was. Hold that thought.
Sadly, that’s not always the experience people have (like you, I have my own less encouraging stories based on my own and loved ones’ experiences).
To pass the time in hospital I bought the latest Private Eye. The following passage from its Medicine Balls column caught my eye:
”M.D. has been writing this column for 25 years, and although the NHS and social care system is not quite in the disastrous state it was in in the 1990s, when waiting times regularly exceeded two years and deaths in the queue were common, it’s heading back that way. Our health spend is around 8% of GDP, heading for 6.6% by 2020. Civilised countries spend between 10% and 12%.”
I’m no health specialist, but I’m sure it’s too simplistic just to say “The NHS needs more money”.
At the same time, though, I wonder if there’s not sometimes too much cleverness and complication around this debate.
When asking whether to invest more in something, let’s start by asking whether it actually works.
If the answer is yes, then it’s a strong candidate for more investment.
Following my own random, unplanned interaction with the NHS I came away with the impression that it’s a system that very much can and does get it right.
But that’s rarely the NHS story you read in the papers, even though my quotidian experience is, I suspect, far more representative of the norm.
I worry there’s a danger here. The danger is that we collectively form the impression that the NHS is “in crisis”, some kind of irredeemable basket case.
And if we do that, when we consider whether it warrants future investment, the answer is either a flat no, or a yes but only on condition of a load of untested and potentially destabilising reforms.
So I thought I’d take the chance to say that, on this one occasion, featuring one man in West London, the system worked brilliantly.
Every nurse, doctor and other member of staff I dealt with was courteous, professional and – most importantly – they made me well again when I couldn’t do so myself.
I know I’ll never turn back the tide of doom-laden headlines that surround this topic.
But I can put up my own little breakwater.
When it comes to the often-emotive subject of the NHS, let’s try and be balanced and objective.
Let’s start by acknowledging that much of what it does, it does well.
Sure, there are areas where improvements are needed. But you never read about the good stuff.
Well, today you did.