Saturday, January 22, 2005

NHS endangers us all

The NHS has decided it's OK to risk my Dad's life. It's making me very angry.

He's eighty and has a cardiac problem for which he was due to see a consultant in mid-January. But his appointment was cancelled at short notice, and rescheduled for the end of June! That's right, a six-month postponement of an appointment for which he'd already waited once.

His GP protested, aware that just before Christmas Dad had blacked out. The hospital would surely fit him in pretty soon. And they did reconsider, but only to the extent of bringing the appointment forward by two weeks: a 21 week delay from the postponement, instead of 23.

Now these waiting lists are right at the heart of the government's hugely expensive NHS programme. The Department of Health website (see Achieving shorter waits ) proclaims "clear targets for reducing inpatient and outpatient waits: by March 2004, a maximum outpatient wait of 17 weeks...by December 2005, a maximum wait of 13 weeks." Indeed, according to the DoH, things are already going pretty swimmingly- "by March 2003, only...64 patients were waiting longer than five months for an outpatient appointment."

Say what? This is January 2005, and my Dad's just been postponed by...er, over five months. And I thought they said the target since last March was going to be 17 weeks, whereas even after appeal, we're looking at another 21 weeks. What's going on? Can't the commissars even manage their own tractor production statistics? Somebody's definitely slipped up because I should have thought the detailed rules for setting waiting times would have said something like "the appointment must be within 17 weeks, although the official clock will be reset at zero if an appointment has to be postponed- just as long as the new appointment is no further ahead than another 17 weeks". That way, the targets would be met even if some patients ended up waiting for ever. Or at least until...well, you know...until the problem resolved itself.

Don't you just want to grab someone's throat?

We'll have to go back to the hard-pressed GP and ask if he'll have another go. But my guess is he's only got so much bureaucratic capital with the hospital, and he's got to share it around amongst all his patients. I bet he has no effective levers he can pull. So in reality, our choice is either to wait and hope for the best, or to pay and go private. Which is fine if you can raise the funds, but tough on the bulk of the population.

Of course, if we do go private, the logical thing would be to see the same consultant my Dad was seeing under the NHS. Because he knows the case, he's got a good reputation locally, and my Dad liked him. He'll just be doing his best amid the shambles of the NHS, and we have direct knowledge of other consultants who've contracted out altogether because they just can't take any more targets, change management programmes, and general box ticking. Can you really blame them?

In my personal experience, the NHS has serious form on killing people through neglect. We won't go into the traumatic details here, because you've only got to look at the statistics. The last time I checked, Britain was at the very bottom of the G7 league table of male heart disease survivability (which measures the percentage of males first diagnosed with heart disease who are still alive five years later- a good reflection of the quality of treatment they receive). In fact, international stats show the overall NHS record on what's known in the trade as "preventable mortality" is appalling. The Wanless Report (remember that?) defined preventable mortality as "preventable had appropriate medical knowledge been applied". Which is as stark as it gets.

We just cannot go on entrusting our lives to the world's largest bureaucracy which may not apply appropriate medical knowledge- particularly now it's headed by an aggressive Scottish communist who's dying for a fag.

We know a million deaths are a statistic, but you only have one Dad.

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