Last night Mrs T and I pulled on our snow shoes and ventured into the frozen wastes north of Watford for dinner at Crippen Towers.
The Doc and Mrs C were in splendid form. We dined hugely before a roaring log fire in the Great Hall while the Doc regaled us and fellow guests with tales of fresh triumphs in state healthcare.
Seated around the table were some of the most senior clinicians in the NHS. Besides the Doc and Mrs C, there were assorted consultants and profs sufficient to cover even all of Tyler's manifold malfunctions. It was the biggest concentration of medical brainpower since Drs Cameron, Snoddy, and Finlay used to meet up for karaoke evenings at Arden Hoose. We felt in safe hands.
"I imagine you're all delighted to have a real medico in charge of the NHS at last," I opined.
There was silence, and they stared at me like doctors do when they're about to give you some Rather Bad News.
"Do you mean the postman?" frowned Britain's top NHS heartman.
"No, no... cuh! Obviously not Johnson. Not that idiot. Cuh! No, that Lord Khazi bloke. You know, his idea for Polycell clinics. Surely if an eminent doctor like him says they're a good idea, they must be. Mustn't they?"
Another silence. I suddenly realised these medicos had been hoping not to spend the entire evening being reminded of problems back at the office. "Polyclinics are just another gimmick. They will never actually happen. Isn't that right Dr C?"
The Doc's Mine Host bonhomie had evaporated. "Gah! I despair! WTF does Khazi know about general practice? Nothing! They have no idea about long-term patient relationships" He swigged the rest of his wine and began stabbing the air with his knife. "It's just one stupid headline grabber after another. This one's already been rubbished by that Red Dawn woman, even though it's a Soviet idea. Gah!"
Mrs C shot him an anxious glance. "Did you remember to take your top-up dose?"
The heartman smiled. "My dear Dr C, you just need to accept these things. Look at my hospital- huge amounts have been spent on new kit, but it's all fifteen year old technology. It's not what we actually wanted, but nobody bothered to ask us- it was decided over our heads. That's just the way the NHS works."
An eminent urologist chipped in. "That's nothing- we were made to scrap all our old kit- which had been paid for by public subscription- because a private sector company was going to lease us a whole lot of new stuff. We'd not asked for it, and we were certainly not consulted. Much worse, when it actually came to delivery, the private company pulled out: overnight, just like that. We were left with nothing but my old Swiss Army knife- the one with that nutcracker attachment for castrating lambs." His smile would have disturbed Red Dawn.
It was all pretty sobering stuff. These are senior doctors from across the NHS, who have seen huge amounts of new money pumped in (some into their own bank accounts). You'd think they'd be upbeat. Yet none thinks the money has been wisely spent, none feels involved in the key decision making, and none expresses much optimism about the future.
The only thing they all agree on is to keep up the BUPA payments.
PS According to the think tank Reform: "The average family spends almost £1,200 a year on medical care - on top of the £3,850 contributed annually to the NHS via tax - in a "creeping privatisation"... bills for dentists and opticians, over-the-counter drugs and nursing care are costing the average household £1,185." But at least with that £1,185, the customer decides how it's spent.