Hours after the key House of Lords vote on the Health and Social Care Bill I went to hospital for one of those uncomfortable minor procedures often required by men of middle years. It was part of a package of tests ordered by my GP just a few weeks before and came round faster than expected thanks to an efficient system whereby the clinic tracks down patients ready to accept appointments thrown up by last-minute cancellations.
The entire process left me impressed. My GP practice no longer seems to dosh out pills to every patient, the philosophy these days appears to be to test where possible and only prescribe where necessary. In my case the doctor recognised that I belong to a demographic prone to certain nasty ailments and thought my symptoms should be checked out. Either that or she thought I was a pain in the butt so made sure that’s precisely what I ended up with.
My experience at the smart, newly-built hospital was exemplary. A quick, efficient service provided in the early evening after work. I won’t bore you with the details – but it is fascinating to see your own insides pulsating on a colour TV screen. The only slight glitch was that I kept setting off alarms. I do a great deal of running, and in consequence have a resting heart rate of about 47bpm and the hospital equipment is set to alert staff to possible problems whenever a patient dips below 50.
Reflecting on the whole thing while resting up for a few minutes in my own little recovery room I realised that I had received everything I crave from the NHS. That is a fast, effective and modern service which was free to me at the point of delivery regardless of whether I was a prince, pauper or PR professional. Everything was joined up from GP referral to hospital appointment – and I was grateful for the offer of a restorative tea and biscuit when it was all over.
Meanwhile the Lords had just given less than wholehearted approval for the Health and Social Care Bill to pass on to its committee stage. Promises of further major amendments were needed for this to happen, and yet more changes are likely as the Lords spend weeks, even months, on line-by-line debates to this immensely controversial piece of legislation. Whatever comes out as law at the end of the democratic process will look nothing like what went in.
I simply hope that after all the sound and fury fades away that patients across England will continue to get joined-up and comprehensive NHS healthcare whenever it is needed. I emphasise ‘England’ because I live in Scotland, where the health service does not face the same upheavals. I’m certainly left wondering, after having watched several governments push through far-reaching NHS reforms, whether grand programmes of transformation leave patients any better off. Perhaps consensual and incremental evolution would get us further than what some world-weary wags refer to as perpetual ‘redisorganisation’.