15 October 2006

A Tory meets the NHS - part 1

I have never spent so much as a single night in hospital since I was born. The inevitable effect of ageing mean that in the past two or three years I have seen more of the medical profession than is ideal, but all of those invited to poke and prod me have been private practioners, paid for out of my own pocket or that of PPP (my insurance company). I am not even registered with a GP and I have no idea what my NHS number is.

My wife, on the other hand, is an organised soul in touch with her thrifty(!) Scottish roots. In the early days of her pregnancy she saw a private gynaecologist, but on discovering that his fee for caring for her throughout the next nine months would be in excess of £10k, I was relieved that she was prepared to look at what was on offer from the NHS. The good news was that for twins the NHS offers an obsectrian who will see you during the pregnancy, and, more importantly, will perform a caesarian on the big day itself. Such service is not, however, available to the run-of-the-mill singletons, who, if they wish to have this must go private. Of course, there was a certain smugness in knowing that my brother shelled out the aforemention large wedge to secure the services of the renowned Gubbay Ayida for his wife's pregnancy, whereas Sarah got to see her for free.
Up to this point, it was all going so well.
The Chelsea and Westminster is a flagship hospital with impeccible New Labour credentials having assisted Cherie bring Leo into this world. It is clean, new and shiny - modern medicine, here we come.
The first visit for the all important 12 week abnormaility scan (when you first see the baby - or in our case - babies and the doctors check for Downs syndrome and other nasties) was basically fine. The slightly-longer-than-necessary wait, which is a quintessential part of any NHS visit, was bareable, although I fail to understand why a 10.30am appointment means that you will not be seen before 11am.
Having done my fatherly bit, Sarah faced her next appointment alone. This was the first disaster. The highlights were that the hospital had lost her notes and the consultant had no record of her appointment. She left feeling bewildered and upset.
Being pushy middle class types, we did not leave it there, but tracked down Ms Ayida's (the consultant) email address and sent a polite but firm letter complaining about the visit. To her massive credit, Ms Ayida rang Sarah the following weekend and spent 20 minutes with her on the phone going over her concerns, and it was decided that Sarah would keep her own notes and bring them to the hospital for each appointment. I later heard Ms Ayida said that she had never had a letter like that from a patient.
So what? A minor gripe in the scheme of things, I hear you say. But two simple things would make life so much easier, more efficient.
(1) The government's insistence on a single IT solution for the entire NHS means that a patient's notes cannot be held on an internal hospital IT system, and thus never be lost. How is it that the nice people at Blogger can make it so easy for me to share my thoughts with whole world, but it is impossible for a hospital to have a simple internal system for storing notes (like the nifty one they have at the private dental surgery I go to in the City)?
(2) Why do all appointments have to be face to face? Obviously samples have to be given, scans made and arrgghhs and coughs performed with the patient right there. However, most of those procedures are increasingly done by skilled techicians and nurses. Especially for maternity, but also for other patients, there is a lot that can be acheived by speaking to a consultant or senior doctor (who has the results of the tests, scans etc) - and guess what, this could be done over the phone.
Anyway, that is enough for now... it is nearly 9.30pm and the girls have not properly settled from their last feed at 8pm and soon will be wanting another one, as will their parents...
In my next post, I will cover the birth and post-natal care and why David Cameron's line that the NHS will be safe in his hands because his family is so often in the NHS's hands made my top lip quiver.

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