The NHS: The No Help, Sorry?

From a very personal perspective, I am feeling rather frustrated with the NHS. I have two ongoing health problems: a recurrent gastritis/gastroenteritis that I have suffered since Christmas 2013, and ongoing pain in my hip after a horse riding accident in August 2013 that at times leaves me unable to get out of a chair or climb the stairs.

In the first case, my GP spent a year telling me I had IBS, and trying me on different medications, many of which made my symptoms worse. I was finally referred to the hospital in December last year, and in the last six months have had two diagnostic tests, neither of which I’ve had discussed with me by either my GP or the referral doctor, as both have said the remit is with the other. And the drugs I was recommended by the doctor during one of my tests? I’m still waiting for that prescription…

In the second, I spent nine months in physiotherapy before the physio recommended my GP refer me to hospital. My GP told me to carry on with physio. Over a year after the initial accident, I was finally referred to the hospital – and I’m still waiting for an initial appointment, two years later.

And the media has been reflecting my frustration with the NHS. The Observer wrote on Saturday about the spending waste in the NHS. The Telegraph has ranted about complacency. The Herald complains about the staffing crisis and the political red tape that are heavily affecting the NHS. It seems like very day there is another story about impossible targets, failure for patients, and a bulbous and inefficient bureaucracy.

Now, I understand better than most the pressure out NHS is under. I studied my preclinical veterinary degree alongside medical students in many parts, so I know how hard those guys have to work even to qualify. Many of my friends from university are now in their Foundation years. I also happen to know a decent number of doctors working in the NHS at the moment, and whilst many of them (surgeons particularly) are arrogant sods and have no people skills at all, they are very, very dedicated to their jobs, and work very long hours saving people’s lives.

And I’m also aware that my situation is not the average. I have a pretty high pain threshold (I broke my elbow in 2012, and continued to row and do core training including pushups etc for two weeks before I realised something wasn’t right), and am quite young, so I understand I’m not a priority, especially when neither of my conditions are life threatening, simply frustrating and painful.

However, in doing my research, I cam across something very interesting. The Nuffield Trust did a study last year comparing the NHS across the UK, and came up with some very interesting results: there really isn’t all that much difference between them. All the regional NHS systems increased spending, although all four have slowed down investment since the imposition of austerity measures. All four have reduced hospital waiting times, shortened ambulance waiting times, improved stroke care, reduced cases of MRSA, and increased numbers of doctors and dentists to show an improved patient:doctor/dentist ratio. In broad terms, systems are comparable across the UK.

However the close comparison between the North of England (which does not have a devolved NHS, but had more comparable mortality rates etc to Scotland than the average of the other administrations at the beginning of the study period in 1991) and Scotland was an eye opener. The North of England had greater improvement in mortality rates, hospital waiting times, treatment rates and life expectancy generally over the course of the study than Scotland, which had been so comparable at the beginning.

However, ultimately, the systems look very similar, despite the Scottish government’s calls that the Scottish system is much superior. There is also no evidence to back up the SNP claim during the referendum that our NHS is in a spiral of doom that can only be saved by independence – all the health systems are actually improving.

The NHS could certainly be better, in my experience. But it also seems to me that, when it comes to our health service, we like to scandalise the issues, and whinge about the problems, rather than actually look at how much our patient care has improved. Further austerity cuts won’t help out NHS, certainly – but can we stop using a ‘failing NHS’ to score political points please? Because it simply isn’t true. Even if I’m still waiting on that appointment.

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