Sunday, March 11, 2012

The NHS, the Thompson Twins and The Three Degrees

With reference to the debate about the future of the NHS, my own recent experiences had made me constantly think of two pop songs from my younger days – ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘When Will I see You Again?’

In early February I got a cold. Nothing unusual about that, of course, many people get colds at that time of year, and the icy weather did not help. This cold has persisted, however, and, to coin a phrase, gone ‘on .. and on.’

After three weeks, and with all the various medicines having absolutely no effect, I thought it might be best to consult a doctor – maybe he/she could prescribe something stronger. Now my local surgery has two ways of being contacted– you can either telephone when the phone will ring ad infinitum and not get picked up – or you can turn up in person to be told there are no appointments, so please go away and try again (not those exact words, but that is the gist of it – I should add that the reception staff are very polite). Sure enough, I got the latter but was offered a telephone call from a nurse. Thinking this was better than nothing, I accepted, she called later and, after a discussion about my symptoms, said I wasn’t ill enough!!

A fortnight later, and still coughing and sneezing, I had a couple of days booked off work to help in a local by-election. As I had the days free, I thought I would try again at my local surgery. Any appointments on those two days? No, sorry, please try again.

I considered changing surgeries and contacted a few others. 'Sorry, we are not taking new customers - our books are full'. So this is not an issue confined to one place.

It is remarkable that I have now been ill for well over a month and that I can’t see anyone to ask for help. The continual coughing gives me chest pains, not to mention making it difficult to watch TV or travel on the coach, and I frequently feel very weak. And I think everyone has by now forgotten what my voice used to sound like.

Of course, there is a serious point. I will eventually get better one day. But if this was someone who was 75 or 80 years old, with a persistent but minor illness, it could well finish them off. You could not say a visit to the doctor or any prescription would make any difference – I could still be ill for over a month – but I do wonder how the difficulty of such access has affected some people.

The obvious problem is that there are not enough GP surgeries to satisfy demand. We need more doctors and more GP surgeries.

Here in Swale, there has been much development of new housing estates, and while new housing is very laudable, you must have the facilities to match. The most common complaints we hear from these new estates are the lack of doctors and dentists, public transport, post offices, schools, roads, even a post box or a small shop to buy a pint of milk. More estates are in development as I type, but no addition to local facilities, so this will be a problem which will only get worse.

So my only question on any NHS reforms is – will it be easier for someone to see a doctor for a non-emergency consultation within a convenient and reasonable time? Or will they, like me, continue to hear those familiar words – ‘no appointments available, please try again'.

'Oh Doctor Doctor -- when will I see you again?'

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