Anger. An emotion I don’t generally have a lot of use for. Which is something for which I’m obviously very grateful, even though I don’t know why that is. A blessed life? Some careful choices? A mostly equable disposition? If pushed to choose one, I’d probably plump for the last.
Yet last Tuesday, early morning, as I made a pot of tea, I experienced anger – proper punch-something, pulse-quickening anger – the like of which I’ve not known in a long time.
And the object of my fury? Jeremy Hunt. A man I confess I don’t know, and doubt I’ll ever know. A man who presumably is every bit as inclined to stroke kittens and love his mother as the next.
There I go again, dammit. Trying to empathise, while Rome burns. Well, if not Rome, quite, an edifice of similar emotional size. Our ground-breaking, life-saving, beloved NHS. That organization we all too often take for granted, but are so, so incredibly lucky to have.
That thing that is the envy of everyone, everywhere. And which, once, not long ago, we did NOT have. Some might still recall that, before Aneurin Bevan, if you were poor and you were sick, you were in trouble. Scrabbling around to find the wherewithal to pay a doctor. You often didn’t, because you couldn’t, and if you couldn’t, you sometimes died. And even if you didn’t pop your clogs then and there, your ‘health outcomes’ (to use modern parlance) were still poor, just like you, in every way.
And if you don’t remember, just take a look across the ocean, where the US health care system, though clearly stuffed full of fab sciency goodness, provides it at a cost – a very high cost – which leaves the poor in the same straits there today.
Make no mistake. Modern medicine is expensive. Just take a trip to a place where there is no free health care and marvel at how the tills all ker-ching. That emergency MRI scan? That precious ITU bed? That maternity unit at 4 in the morning? Complex science. Lots of medics. Lots of nurses. Lots of tech. All of which comes at a cost. A cost that is currently shared between all of us via taxes, which means everyone, rich or poor, benefits equally.
Take that away, though, and a shiny new regime will prevail. The rich will all pay for their own private health insurance. And the poor…well, the poor will obviously do what they must – struggle to pay, go untreated, get progressively sicker.
There is no point in my arguing points of fact in this mess. I’ve spent all my adult life married to a hospital doctor, and my second son is a junior doctor right now. So I know how it goes. I have first hand exposure. There is nothing you can tell me about stressful professions that I don’t already, sometimes gut-wrenchingly, know.
No points, then, just this. We are in danger. Forget the ‘7-day’ nonsense. Discard the ‘weekend mortality’. Disabuse yourself of any notion that this is progress. The first IS a nonsense – we already have it. The second is a lie, based on spurious stats. The third is not progress. It’s a cost cutting exercise – one wrapped up in soundbites, predicated on the idea that to get your bunions done on Sunday is something we can actually afford. (“How d’you like your doctors, ma-am? Oh, spread really, really thinly, of course.”)
Remember only this. British junior doctors now leave our world-renowned medical schools with eye-watering levels of debt. They do obscenely long shifts, back to back, nights AND weekends. They work for money that a business or law graduate would laugh at, and make life-and-death decisions as standard. They save lives, they have to tell people they are dying, and, when they do die, they have to go tell their loved ones they are gone. And at the same time while studying for the kind of higher professional exams that make GCSE biology look like finger painting. Oh, and pay to take those, as well.
No wonder they are stressed, and strung out, and striking.
But remember this, Jeremy Hunt, since this column is for you. They are also decent, highly motivated, highly intelligent, and highly qualified. And in demand everywhere on the planet.
And if you don’t listen to them, soon, you will lose them.
Or rather, we will. The NHS will. The NHS PATIENTS will.
Bar, of course, those that can afford them.
That’s why I’m so angry. Nye Bevan must be turning in his grave.
First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, 30th April 2016