Getting carted off to hospital in an ambulance at 4am, doubled-over with acute abdominal cramps that just won’t go away; not the best start to the week.
I’ve had a stressful year, upturned – the untimely death of a parent does that. So when stomach problems started to surface a few months ago, that’s what I put it down to – stress. I’ve had several instances of crampy discomfort, one or two much worse episodes more recently. And then there was Sunday. Sunday was off-the-scale. I’ll spare you the details, but the upshot, after several increasingly painful and vile hours, was this: A call to NHS111 when I could stand the pain no more and was thinking I might be having an actual heart attack; the despatch of an ambulance; a day in a chaotic and overwhelmed A&E; nil-by-mouth; the extraction of blood – lots of it; X-rays and ultrasound; people prodding and poking (I hope they were doctors); a further day on a ward operating beyond its remit; industrial quantities of antibiotic and painkillers on drip; thence to be packed off home with instructions to avoid overly fatty meals and attend a clinic next Monday to see what comes next.
Unbeknown to me, over recent weeks, I’d developed an inflamed gallbladder and a ‘deranged’ liver, courtesy of some errant gallstones, one of which kicked off the latest, greatest episode of vileness and agony. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t pretty at all.
That’s more detail than anyone would want, so I’ll leave the rest of this miserable experience to your imagination. Save to say a word or two about the extraordinary situation in my local hospital (that’s Hillingdon Hospital in West London, but it could just as well have been any hospital, anywhere in the country), and the equally extraordinary professionals who are doing their very, very best in utterly over-stretched conditions.
I have a lot of time for the NHS – it has served my family well over the years and is a good and positive thing, whatever Donald Trump might think. The UK is a much, much better place for the NHS. But this venerable institution is in trouble, thanks to a decade of austerity (from the financial crisis, which was kicked off by the USA’s sub-prime loans catastrophe). A decade of under-funding has left the armies of dedicated and committed professionals across the NHS fire-fighting, horse-trading, and doing everything in their power to deliver care in totally and utterly strained circumstances, day after day, night after night. And do you know what? All except for one sullen nurse, every single person I met in the last few days at Hillingdon Hospital, was doing it with a smile and good cheer. And I imagine it’s much the same in every hospital and clinic across the country – because that’s the kind of people they are.
They raced around, chasing down scarce equipment. They juggled cubicles, tended to people on beds in corridors and chairs all over the place. When they needed more beds they ‘flexed’ a day ward into service, forcing them to cancel who knows how many minor operations in the process. If the odd minor thing fell through the cracks, they stayed on top of what mattered. And they kept going, through twelve hour shifts and acres of… carnage.
It’s a crime that the NHS has been expected to operate under such conditions. And now that we’re getting the small hints that ‘austerity’ might be coming to an end, the very, very first priority of the Government must be to pump money into its veins and jump-start its exhausted heart before it expires altogether. The country deserves it, but more than that, those hundreds of thousands of extraordinary professionals – nurses, doctors, consultants, radiologists, anaesthetists, orderlies, porters, paramedics and everyone else, yes, even the administrators and managers – deserve it.