Ms Raccoon has been out and about – taking her business to the fat man who works out of the back of a lorry in a secret location. When I say ‘fat’ I am talking a human being of Cyril Smith dimensions – they say it is the poor and underprivileged who reach these dimensions, they can’t afford better quality food, and don’t have sufficient education to know how to eat sensibly. Hmmn.
I arrived, clutching the map that had been sent to me, with an ‘x’ marking the exact spot where I would find him – that day, that hour, only – it was in one of those concrete loading bays that frequently feature in cops and robber dramas. A hearse pulled up next to it. The lorry was closed up, no sign of life, but a hand written sign invited me to pick up a nearby telephone and call Fatman’s mobile. He answered straight away – ‘Name?’ – I gave him my name. ‘OK, I’ll send someone to get you, wait there’.
55 minutes later, someone did in fact arrive to collect me, and I entered the Lorry.
In search of cheap cigarettes? Cut price Booze? What nefarious business did you imagine Ms Raccoon was conducting?
None of the above – I was entering the world of our ‘world class NHS’ – you know, that leviathan of the public sector that the Tory’s are allegedly going to ‘privatise’, something we are assured will bring about a disastrous lowering of the immaculate NHS standards. Ms Raccoon was about to enjoy ‘cutting edge’ medical technology with diagnostic imaging…yes, my three monthly PET scan was due again.
Now the ‘somebody’ who arrived to collect me is a lovely girl, same one as last time, full of good humour and cheer; about my height, and slender – she needs to be. There is not much room for her – she lives in a cubicle at the back of the lorry which, I kid you not, is smaller than the average toilet cubicle. This is the second time in my life that I have found myself playing ‘footsie’, nay ‘kneesie’ as well, with a woman. Same woman as well.
‘We’ll have to stop meeting like this’, I quipped. She giggled. I wriggled. Out of my coat. It’s cold in that tha’r car park, but now she needed me half naked. She stuck a needle in my arm. Well done her! I’ve only got one vein left that will oblige and she hit it first time. ‘You know the routine now, I’ll give you my keys’, she said. ‘Keys?’ ‘Mmmn, keys to the staff toilet in the main building’. I felt positively privileged as I climbed back down from the back of the lorry, across the car park, and glancing furtively from left to right, entered the main building.
Down one of the endless corridors – count..one..two..three crisp and chocolate vending machines, turn right, past a vast restaurant filled with munching humans, and there was the staff toilet! I took off my clothes, put on the paper nightgown and threw my coat back on – and then I took a wrong turning.
This time I found myself passing the light and spacious ‘Muslim prayer room’, next to the chapel. Then a curious space in the centre of the thoroughfare, backing onto another huge restaurant full of chattering munchers. The tiny space was bordered on three sides by those temporary panels they use in exhibitions. No roof, half of one side left open to allow entry, and precisely the width of a small sofa. Inside you could see just such an item – a small sofa – and perhaps three foot of floor space in front of it. Nothing else. Just a sign affixed to the wall that read ‘Please respect the privacy of bereaved relatives using this space’.
50% of human beings die in a hospital, not many go there in search of the gourmet diet – so it seems a curious division of space that so little is given up for the needs of their bereaved relatives – and so much squandered on selling food?
Still, back to the car park. The expensive car park. £2.50 an hour actually. 4 hours I was there. Free at the point of delivery, eh? I shivered and tapped on the door of the lorry again, and Ms Chirpy let me in, I don’t know how she stays so cheerful.
This time I passed through a narrow doorway into a corridor. A remarkably grubby corridor; not that I am Mrs Houseproud, but the hour I passed sitting in that narrow corridor could have usefully been spent with a scrubbing brush and a bottle of Flash. There is no window, nothing to look at bar count the fingerprint marks and wonder at the scuffles that have taken place and resulted in stains on the ceiling for God’s sake! Perhaps I’ll take some Flash with me next time.
Fatman appeared, shirt hanging out of his crumpled jeans, and connected a metal tube to the needle in my arm, and pressed the trigger to put the radioactive liquid into me. ‘You’ve got to ‘cook’ for an hour now’, he said, and squeezed his bulk through the admittedly tiny door. A low moaning from behind me told me that I had company. An elderly man, in a chair facing the other way, also apparently ‘cooking’. Radioactive companions, we were, glowing in togetherness. He didn’t sound as though he was enjoying it much. Nobody came to see why.
An interminable hour later, the door swung open again, and Fatman re-appeared, beckoning me into his inner sanctum. The beating heart of this ‘white hot’ technology. It might have been white twenty years ago – now it was, like the corridor, grubby and stained. ‘Could I have a blanket?’ I whimpered. ‘I’m frozen’. He produced a length of tin foil, those emergency wraps they use on marathon runners. ‘Lie down, breath normally, keep absolutely still’, he grunted. That was the extent of our conversation. I read the label on his chest. ‘Senior technician’ it said. Not poor or uneducated then.
15 minutes later, I’d had my scan. I’ll get the results on the 14th April. Yes, that is a month away, but what’s a brief four weeks to wonder what Fatman knows about my body that I don’t? It’ll soon pass. He is qualified to make me radioactive, but not to speak to me. That requires another expert. She’s on leave. She was last time I had a scan. I had to wait a month then.
I have been spoilt in France. When they saying cutting edge technology, they mean it. Everything happens with the speed of light, everything is sanitised and spotless. The PET scan takes place in a suite of purpose built rooms in the bowls of the building, conducted by healthy looking staff in crisp white protective clothing. But then that is a ‘privatised service’, you have a choice where to go. When they say ‘free at the point of delivery’, which it is for any French resident with a life threatening condition, they mean it. They give you the result straight away (admittedly for a PET scan that does mean a couple of days later, it is more complicated than the ordinary CT scan to develop the pictures).
So would the NHS be improved by ‘privatisation’? Well, there’s the rub. You see what I was ‘enjoying’ was privatisation. The British version. Actually, not just the British version, but the Labour British version.
‘Inhealth’ which owns this flipping lorry, was set up under a Labour government in 2004.
InHealth provides diagnostics and imaging services to the NHS and private hospitals and clinics, including MRI, CT, X-Ray, DXA, Nuclear Medicine, Mammography, Ultrasound, Interventional Cardiology, Audiology, ENT, Endoscopy and Physiological Measurement. The company employs about 1000 people, including clinical specialists and patient referral teams. Its services are provided from over 280 locations in the UK and Ireland and they work with a significant majority of NHS Trusts in the UK covering over 200 hospitals and over 80 community health clinics. The company saw over 500,000 patients in 2011. InHealth is a Choose and Book provider, fully integrated with the NHS Image Exchange Portal (IEP).
Ivan Bradbury, who ‘is’ Inhealth by the yardstick of the man in the street, used to run an electronics business. He sold it well and thus had substantial funds. In 1998 He ‘was advised’ to invest those funds in British healthcare, circuitously into a company now known as Inhealth, via a holding company in Luxembourg.
Entirely coincidentally, in the same year, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown took the reins of government, and started a programme of privatising the NHS. Good fortune smiles on those in the right place at the right time.
(For his subsequent problems viz a viz the advice given by his accountants as to the most tax efficient nay, nay, not tax evasive, way of structuring this see his subsequent legal action against his accountants.)
In their book The Plot against the NHS, Colin Leys and Stewart Player argue that, having failed to persuade the public and the medical establishment under Margaret Thatcher that the NHS should be turned into a European-style national insurance programme, the advocates of a competitive health market gave up trying to convince the big audience and focused on infiltrating Whitehall’s policymaking centres and the think tanks.
Entirely coincidentally, Ivan Bradbury became chairman of the Trustees of Civitas, just such a think tank, which produces such publications as “A return to the NHS’s core values” which – oh go on then, you’re ahead of me, aren’t you? – turns out to be an entreaty to fund the NHS by giving patients a budget which they could choose where to spend…
“Enhanced choice will ensure that people who are left unhappy with health services in their area will have a wide variety of options at their disposal, not simply voting for a new government in the hope that healthcare reforms could take place. Importantly, this will enfranchise those for whom completely ‘private’ healthcare would never be affordable.”
Now I don’t begrudge Ivan Bradbury his Dragon class yacht, nor the time in which to race it, not at all, at all – he has built a successful business. What is puzzling me is a) How come the British version of privatisation turns out to be a grubby lorry in a parking bay, not the sleek French version, and b) why are we hearing so much from the Labour party about the ‘NHS being safe in their hands – unlike the nasty Tories’, when it turns out the Tories rejected privatisation plans, which promptly then prospered under 13 years of Labour rule, and c) why has this hospital got four different restaurants, a clothes shop (I kid you not), its own branch of WH Smiths, its own Costa coffee shop, a bloody expensive car park, and yet has neither space nor funds to carry out its core functions, which is surely diagnosing disease, treating it, and dealing compassionately with the relatives of those it has failed?
The NHS is putting me in mind of the Vatican – a self governing state within a state, that cannot be policed, criticised, or modernised – but is incredibly good at raking in funds and handing them out to the chosen few.