This week, Broadstairs writer and dominatrix Melissa Todd considers the consequences of an under-funded NHS after her friend was forced to wait eight hours for treatment to a nasty leg wound...
My mate John runs a picture framing shop on Ramsgate high street, and recently took a delivery of several large panes of glass.
A freak accident saw one land on his shin. He lost two pints of blood, and would insist on showing me the pictures, despite my protests I might puke. As you might expect, it looked rather like someone had spilled a large tin of red paint, all over the pavement.
“Luckily the delivery driver knew some first aid,” said John. “He was brilliant. Might have gone very badly for me if he hadn’t been on hand. My son started ripping up old t-shirts for tourniquets, and called an ambulance.” It arrived promptly and patched him up properly, then dropped him at Margate A&E.
“It was Monday lunchtime, but they were already queuing out the door. Row upon row of coffin dodgers, settled in for the day, in wheelchairs, often, some attended by carers or family, most not. I waited there eight hours to be stitched up. Without being offered any pain relief.”
We’ve grown accustomed to stories like this, so much so that an eight hour wait in A&E for a genuine accident and emergency starts to seem reasonable. But why are the very elderly, with their complex catalogue of physical, emotional and social needs, being forced to wait there too? To see strangers, who won’t know their history, and can only offer the most basic level of temporary intervention?
In 1948, when the NHS was founded, life expectancy was 64 for men, 70 for women. There are now six times as many 75 year olds alive than in 1948, and eight times as many 85 year olds.
A disproportionate percentage of the NHS budget goes on hospitals, because every MP wants a hospital next to their constituency’s ballot box. Hospitals are sexy. People love them. But it’s estimated at least 30% of the work done in hospitals could be done elsewhere. Too many people are kept in hospitals for too long, often thanks to the colossal underfunding of social care.
That evening, John’s ankle was stitched up at last. He was told to come back in a week, to have the stitches removed, but not given an appointment time, so he presumes he’s meant to sit among the elderly for a further eight gruelling hours. He’s self-employed and can ill-afford to lose another day. What an idiotic waste of his time and a hospital chair.
Most politicians see public health as expenditure rather than investment. In addition, Conservative politicians tend to believe that anything funded by the state is wrong, for all they’re canny enough not to say so publicly. But we all know people who can’t work because they’re waiting for operations or treatment. In fact, for every £1 spent on the NHS, it’s estimated £4 is returned to the economy. We need to reframe the issue - pardon the pun, John - as being about public investment rather than expenditure.
Not only work hours are lost, but a population in poor health will inevitably cause trouble and expense for other components of the public purse. Guess how much of police resources are concentrated on people with mental health problems? About 25%. More than sexual assault and robbery combined. I won’t bother you with statistics about how long it will take to get a mental health assessment: that’s another story we’ve heard too often. But given how this impacts on police time, surely other areas of public spending need to invest in the nation’s health, for all our sakes.
A sickly nation causes trouble all over.