When the NHS can be helped by the private sector, we should be pleased not furious, argues the Patient from hell
Andrew Lansley's health bill may be a dog's breakfast, but I find the doctors' reaction to it completely over the top. It makes me doubt their sanity. In the letter written to the papers by 60 leading medical professionals on the first day of the House of Lords debate two weeks ago, they said portentously "the British people do not support the privatisation of the NHS". Privatisation is not on offer, as the doctors well know.
One claimed that doctors and hospitals could soon the forced to compete "in a patients' marketplace". How absolutely dreadful, patients being encouraged to decide for themselves who are the best people to give them treatment – whatever next?
Another made the standard allegation that the bill is "propelling us towards a US-style market economy in health, with all the inefficiency, waste and poorer outcomes that are well known". I fail to see that any minor encouragement to competition in the bill can possibly be construed to end up with this horrible outcome. If the original bill had some hints of this, the revised version certainly hasn't. A bit of mild competition, yes, but privatisation, no way.
I have been reflecting on how private medicine has impinged on my life from time to time over the past few years, and asking myself whether I could have survived without it.
Two years ago, a few days before an operation, I mentioned to the anaesthetist that I had a long-term heart murmur. This made him ask for an echocardiogram. The hospital did not have one, and the nearest NHS hospital had too long a waiting list for its machine. So the anaesthetist fixed one at a local private hospital, at no charge to me. The alternative would have been to defer my operation, which not have been a particularly good idea, as the aim was to remove a cancerous growth.
So, hooray for the private sector, riding to the rescue, when the NHS couldn't help. Incidentally, the private hospital was not owned by ruthless Yankee businessmen, with dollar signs instead of brains, as many 'leading medical professionals' like to depict the whole of private medicine. It is run by an order of nuns.
In 2005, my wife needed a small operation on her knee, but she was at the end of a long NHS queue. Then miraculously she was rung up by a local private hospital, who told her that the NHS had arranged for her to have the op there free of charge. Bizarre, but it all became clear. A general election was about to happen, and the Labour government was desperate to reduce waiting lists, to demonstrate its devotion to the NHS. So, again, the private sector stepped in when the NHS – and the government – had goofed. And my wife could resume active life months earlier than if she had had to wait for the NHS.
I could go on with other similar stories, but the moral is always the same. The NHS is far from being perfect, and I, the patient, welcome the back-up of 'any qualified supplier' promised by Lansley. If any 'leading medical professional' attacks me, and claims that the NHS is near-perfect and doesn't need an injection of competition, I would like to point to Channel 4 Dispatches programme two weeks ago, Do you trust your doctor?; to last week's Care Quality Commission report on the treatment of the elderly in hospitals; to the ombudsman's report on GPs wrongly striking patients off their registers; and to the National Audit Office's report last week on 20 financially failing health service hospitals.
The NHS is sick, and desperately needs help from wherever it can find it – even the private sector.
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Read the complete post at http://www.guardian.co.uk/healthcare-network/2011/oct/24/patient-hell-hooray-private-healthcare
Oct 24 2011, 04:11 AM
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