Friday, 14 August 2009


My family has enthusiastically supported and used the NHS all our lives. We do not share Daniel Hannan’s views of the service, nor his advocacy for individual health accounts. Clinical need - not wealth - should be the determinant of healthcare. But however well intentioned, the NHS also has a darker side.

My grandmother - once a nurse in a TB hospital in Portsmouth during the 1930’s – died after a long and full life. Apart from the usual aches and pains of growing old, she had rarely been ill before suffering a stroke at the age of 97. I still remember that terrible moment when I first saw her as the GP - attempting to gauge some form of cognitive ability - asked her how many fingers he was showing, as if she were a three year old child. But mostly I remember the look on her face. A face that I had grown up with and loved, a face that had shared so many precious moments, now staring at me without recognition - vacant and distorted - as if someone had drained all emotion and warmth from her cheeks.

Rushed to Hospital, I was amazed at the quality of the care she received. St Peter’s, Chertsey, is a bright new hospital designed intelligently into a series of 10 – 12 bed wards off comfortably sofa’d corridors which soothed both patients and visitors. The ward bristled with specialist stroke equipment around each bed and bustled with serious, green-scrubbed clinical staff. This was modern medicine at its most impressive; spotless, high-tech and concentrated.

The stroke turned out to be minor and within two days she was able to get out of bed. That evening I had my last lucid conversation with her as she sat on a chair beside her bed talking comfortably about returning home.

Two days later, we heard she had been transferred to a general ward at Ashford Hospital - within the same NHS trust – and visited with relaxed expectations. I have never seen such a transformation. Listlessly fidgeting in and out of consciousness, she had been dressed in a tight-fitting, all-in romper suit because she was continually pushing back her bedclothes. High-sides had been attached to the bed in an effort to stop her desperately trying to get out. This was a seriously ill woman. When I visited the next day, she had been moved to a side room on her own. The ward sister explained that all visitors would have to wear gowns, gloves and masks. She had MRSA.

She lasted two more days. I knew she would. She died at a quarter past midnight on the morning of my birthday. I had spent two hours that evening sitting beside her, masked and gloved, unable to even kiss her. And just for the record, MRSA was not listed on her death certificate.