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.