Buried under an avalanche of inconsequential media tittle-tattle – did ‘x’ tell ‘y’ how he got his best stories, and did ’y’ tell his boss how he did it, and should ‘z’ not resign in disgrace for not knowing what ‘x’ didn’t tell ’y’…yawn…the above quote from Christina McAnea, Head of Health at public sector union UNISON demands our true attention.
“Little more than consumers’’; the phrase is still rattling round in my head – as someone who has spent the past week being ‘little more than a consumer’ let me tell you a thing or two about the dreadful, unbearable, fate that awaits you should you be daft enough to step away from the ‘marvellous’, ‘free at the point of delivery’ NHS – you will be appalled at the privations I have endured at the hands of a ‘privatised’ health service…..appalled, I tell you.
Just 24 days ago, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Not that I’d complained of anything you understand, hadn’t asked to be a ‘patient’, hadn’t even been to see the Doctor, but being ‘little more than a consumer’, one who was free to take my business elsewhere, you understand, he was keen to ensure that he continued to make a profit out of me. Like any decent mechanic, he was studying the latest analysis – something he insists on me having regularly, and determined that all was not well in the State of Raccoon.
He insisted I come in for a service. You would expect any decent garage to phone you, even at nine o’clock at night, if they feared you had a life threatening fault with your brakes wouldn’t you? Surely you’d take your business elsewhere if they didn’t? Well, I’m sorry to tell you that when you are ‘little more than a consumer’ they treat you the same way. In a privatised health service your analysis (assuming you even get one!) doesn’t get folded up by the receptionist into your notes to see if you present yourself as a ‘patient’, nothing so civilised – nope, they intrude into your private life at nine o’clock at night anxious to make a profit and demand you come in to be cured.
To cut a long story short, 20 days later, and that delayed by 10 days owing to my becoming too sick for the operation, I am back home again, no longer with ovarian cancer.
I selected – not for me the reassuring NHS system of ‘my nearest hospital’ – nope, I had to chose from a range of hospitals as to which one I felt would give me the best service, and entered the portals of the Bergonie in Bordeaux last Thursday. I endured the private room, with TV, en-suite bathroom, a safe thoughtfully provided for any valuables, and meals on wheels three times a day, as best I could. The constant interruptions from nurses calling in to see if there was anything they could get me, was I anxious at all, did I need to ‘talk’, would I like them to show me how to use the TV, was almost unbearable. Fortunately it was not for long.
That room, ‘my room’ was only for the purpose of storing my clothes, and other bits and pieces, perhaps providing a bed for my husband when he needed to stay overnight, just a ‘hotel’ room in other words.
At 5.30am the next morning, having twice been shampooed and showered in disinfectant, hair dried lovingly and professionally by a young nurse the first time – the second time I had to do it myself, she was no longer allowed to touch me, but then I wasn’t allowed to touch the hairdryer either, making for an interesting dance – I was sat in a wheelchair on a sterilised cloth and delivered to ‘checkpoint charlie’ – double doors glided open to admit me, my nurse stepped back, and another sterile nurse invited me to switch myself to a fresh wheelchair. I was now officially a ‘sick little more than a consumer’. Nothing, right down to my wedding ring, was allowed to accompany me from the outside world.
There would not be the enchanting chatter of the five brats of my next door neighbour running riot round the beds at visiting time, no clod hopping husbands fresh from their job collecting household rubbish brushing past my bed delivering flowers to their sick wives, no Uncle Fred coughing and spluttering the last of his winter cold, no nurses rushing past with bed pans filled by another patient. Good God, they’d even clipped my toe nails shorter to ensure that I wasn’t harbouring an errant germ under one of them. It was a depressing vision of the world of competition between hospitals to see who can kill the least patients with MRSA.
I don’t honestly remember anything else, someone gave me a sweetie to suck which was nice of them, a thoughtful touch, and the next thing I knew I woke up, or at least I became aware that two delightful young men were massaging my naked arms and legs, well everything really, with some sweet smelling oils – they gave me to understand that they were ‘re-animating me’. That’s what they said anyway; told me that I had had five hours of surgery and would I like to speak to my husband…I wasn’t at all sure that I hadn’t failed to survive the operation and gone to heaven, but agreed to speak to Mr G anyway.
They dialled his number on their mobile phone – you didn’t think they’d let me take my dirty old outside world mobile phone with me, did you? And very kindly, after I’d managed to tell Mr G that I was stark naked and being given a massage by two good looking young men, finished the conversation for me, telling him that I was fine, they would look after me, and deliver me back to him as soon as possible – I had long since lost interest in Mr G and fallen asleep again.
For the next three days I floated in a sea of kindness, courtesy, and my new bestest friend ever, Morphia; my every waking need serviced by a succession of Sacha Distel lookalikes – and they were all men too. That’s what you get when nursing is seen as a serious profession. The only female nurses were young and appeared unmarried, anyone with extra stripes on their sleeves was definitely male.
On the fourth day, I was declared fit enough to return to the outside world, and returned to my ‘hotel’ room. Shock, horror, my husband wasn’t there – we didn’t know he could have stayed there – he was 100 miles away! Not to worry, someone would help me pack and they would get a car to take me home.
What! No comforting ward full of harassed bed pan attendants? No curtains pulled round dying patients in the middle of the night? No shared bathrooms with blood splattered walls? How could they do this to me?
Four days after major surgery they were refusing to let me come in contact with other sick patients and insisting that I return home, some nonsense about a sterile nurse coming to see me twice a day and the Doctor phoning me every night.
Now I know you won’t believe the next bit, and unfortunately I don’t have a scanner at the moment, but you are welcome to ‘call me out’ on this one as soon as I do, and I shall scan in the receipt…
They sent me home that afternoon, 100 miles from Bordeaux, in a chauffeur driven Mercedes, 216 euros on the clock.
I don’t have to pay that of course; about the only way in which the French ‘part-privatised’ health service even begins to match up with the dear old NHS is that it doesn’t cost me a penny. Free at the point of delivery, just the same as the NHS. Paid for out of my health contributions, just like National Insurance contributions. If you are unemployed or retired, then your ‘contribution’ is automatically credited to you. Just like the UK.
I do have private health insurance as well; it costs me 12 Euros a week, about £10. It would have covered me if I had wanted my ears pinned back, or my in growing toe nail dealt with, or a tattoo removed…or the dentist, or optician.
Since what ailed me was life threatening, then it was fully covered by the state. I just had to produce my ‘carte vitale’ proving that I am a French resident and fully paid up with my tax and insurance…of course if I’d just arrived here, eight and a half months pregnant, and expected free maternity services, I’d have been stuffed (sic). So unfair.
It’s an inhumane system here; cling onto your NHS, preserve it at all costs, until you’ve experienced a part privatised system, you really don’t understand the dangers and deprivation lurking ahead.
Now, do excuse me, nurse has just arrived to change my dressings (and check I haven’t figured out how to fiddle the damn meter on Morphia!) Mr G is preparing a little home made soup from the veg garden, and I’m off to settle down on the sofa and watch a good movie.
Enjoy your mixed wards and MRSA while you can and think of me, suffering, as ‘little more than a consumer’.