ANTS AND ELEPHANTS
I am 73, typing this with one hand as my broken left arm is hanging limp and useless in its brace at my side. As an elderly Briton, like many of my ilk, I could sometimes be accused of taking healthcare for granted. The idiotic way I ended up in my current state of disability fills me with shame. It involved everything a sensible mature person should have avoided, and the timing was a disgrace. New Year’s Eve, too many beers, some wine, an over-confident ascension of the stairs, slipped footing, a somersault, punished by lying prostrate on the hallway floor in agony, my bloodied face smashed against the wall, unable to move my body. At 2 am on January 1st, as on other days throughout the festive season, I always raise a glass to those dedicated and underpaid operatives in all those industries which cannot simply close down because of Santa Claus or Auld Lang Syne; the police, utility workers, firemen, the forces and especially the thousands who work selflessly as ambulance drivers, paramedics, nurses and doctors. To inflict an extra burden on these due to my own profligate carelessness is something I am not proud of. Thus, whilst more deserving and innocent patients, the genuinely sick elderly, accident victims and those suffering cardiac arrest filled the NHS work rota on this notable night, I have added to it all by being a thoughtless drunk.
And yet the blue lights and the sirens came, and the kind, patient and compassionate paramedics avoided calling me a stupid old drunk; they gave me dignity and morphine, they carried me with gentle sympathy to hospital, where empathy and benevolence through pain-relieving doctors and nurses continued into the New Year dawn. These often overlooked workers who we only come into contact with via our surgeries or some health problem, are in my opinion representative of the finest vocation anyone can aspire to; the care and comfort of fellow human beings. And they are not by any measure rewarded adequately for their labours. Compared to the disgusting ‘rewards’ given to bankers, CEOs, (perversely, often for failure) advertising executives and city speculators, they have all the financial kudos and visibility of ants in a herd of elephants.
The media onslaught against our National Health Service is currently at full tilt, presenting us every day with yet more stories of crisis, long waits in A&E, potential deaths from waiting on trolleys for a bed … it goes on. Yes; the situation is bad. Could it be fixed? Of course it could. A few pence on income tax or National Insurance could do wonders, and if sold properly and sympathetically to the public, it wouldn’t lose any votes. The real reasons for the heroic struggle NHS staff are shouldering today are hidden behind a smokescreen of lies and falsehoods.
Since 2010 the Conservative government has laboured under the long-desired notion that eventually, due to their mandate, they can fulfil their dystopian dream; the dismantling of the NHS, the sell-off of all its assets to Downing Street’s favourite private ‘service suppliers’ such as BUPA, G4S, Capita, ATOS, Serco, Virgin Health etc. and the rapacious insurance industry. Like the Royal Mail, our railways, transport, telecoms, gas and electricity, all of which were once owned by us, the people, Tory MPs (and others) may well secretly regard their privileged parliamentary status as something approaching that of robber barons. The hijacking of public services for conversion into profit centres to be parcelled out to party donors and well-heeled supporters is a disgrace and an insult to morality. Yet it goes on, a covert movement of bean counters and iniquitous lobbyists who will spend more on lunches and soirees in a month than a registered nurse on 12 hour shifts will earn in a year.
Sadly, those of us who see the reality of this avaricious landscape for what it is, the burgeoning kingdom of greed, are a diminishing tribe. We are demeaned as scroungers, lovers of the ‘Nanny State’ and even worse - as socialists. Only when the benefit of this stubborn human desire to serve our fellows with dedicated care has vanished into the City of London’s financial cyberspace will the nostalgic question be asked; “Whatever happened to our final freedom - to be ill, free of charge?”
Until then, whilst my NHS screams its swansong, I salute it and all those who labour as I sleep to keep it alive.