Returning to the UK from my period of quarantine in Sweden a few months ago, I suddenly learned that I didn’t have a doctor there any more. I’d been deleted from my surgery’s list without notice or permission, by a shadowy organisation called ‘Modality’ which had apparently taken over the practice, of which I had been a patient (or perhaps it’s now a ‘customer’) for fifty years. Eventually, and after a long tussle with the telephone robots that now rule much of our lives – ‘if you’re wanting to speak to another robot, please press 1’ – I got reinstated.
But that didn’t improve things at all. I still couldn’t get through to a proper doctor, and learned in fact that I didn’t have one: a personal one, that is, who knew me and my medical history; only a general and impersonal relationship with the practice, and an appointment with whichever doctor happened to be free, if I was very lucky, to see me (or talk over the phone) in two or three weeks’ time. Even then consultations were not expected to last more than ten minutes. That wouldn’t cover a tenth of my hypochondriacal complaints.
This is not what I had been used to. Born just a few years before the NHS came into existence, I’ve had wonderful care from a succession of GPs since then, and from NHS hospitals. (One Hull GP even insisted on driving 10 miles out to the maternity hospital to deliver our baby son personally.) I’m not sure whom or what to blame for the decline in the service recently: funding shortages obviously; Brexit possibly (depriving us of foreign doctors and nurses; and by the way, what happened to those millions that Brexit was meant to free up for the NHS?); and in Hull’s case a regional shortage of trained medical staff. The fact that we’ve all been recently deluged by advertising for private health insurance – in Hull it’s mostly from a group of hospitals called ‘Spire’, specifically promising quicker appointments with doctors – must sow the suspicion that it’s deliberate, on the part of a government that never, from its beginnings, liked the very idea of a health service that capitalists couldn’t make ‘loadsamoney’ from. (Which is why we still have some private doctors, and places like Spire.)
It also shocked me coming from Sweden: where medical care is still relatively cheap, hospitals well staffed and maintained, doctors see you quickly and for at least 20 minutes at a time, and who – most importantly – can get to know you personally, and your medical (or hypochondriacal) history. So, having failed to get an appointment in Hull, I’m now planning to return to Stockholm sooner than I intended, in order to be examined by Sarah; who as well as being an excellent doctor reminds me of how the good old NHS used to be in the olden days.
I really do miss the ‘nanny state’. Losing the NHS will be like losing the family that had always taken care of these physical things for you, so liberating you to fulfil your true potential. Ask that notorious nanny’s boy, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Sorry for the personal. But it’s also political. And I don’t suppose my situation is unique.
(PS. I forgot to mention that my Surgery had a flood half-way through this whole process, which it’s still in the process of repairing; and which will excuse some of its failings, but not all.)
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The UK is disturbingly dystopian, judging from your reports, Bernard. I hope that Sweden will remain a saner alternative despite recent political developments.