Sunday, May 20, 2007


The NHS has Improved...and Vastly

I'm sure I'm not alone in my bemusement at the poor ratings the NHS has been receiving over the past four or five years. All those billions poured in, all those new doctors and nurses, and still rated as worse than when Labour came in? The Tories perceived as more reliable on the NHS than Labour?

All this is so different to my own experience. When I incurred a stroke while jogging in October, 1992 I spent my first night in hospital lying on a trolley in a corridor (the next day I was transferred to a neurological ward at MRI and thereupon received the best of care). In more recent years I have been looked after by the best GP I've ever had; my small operation two years ago was set up within a month and expedited in a day; recently- a sad reminder of mortality and ageing- I've had to have hearing aides fitted: I was seen as soon as I rang the hospital- despite an alleged long waiting list- and I was fixed up in less than a fortnight. And yet we see these bad ratings. Some commentators have blamed it on the media's badmouthing: individual experiences are positive but people still absorb the angle that the overall system is rubbish from the right-leaning national media.

So I was interested to read the article today by Jo Revill, sometime health editor for The Observer. She reminds us how easy it is to forget how bad the service was ten years ago: casualty patients queuing up for 24 hours, in some cases dying in their quest for attention; not even a single intensive care bed available nationwide with one woman being transported 200 miles to find one; and, the hardest pill for patients to swallow, 18 month to two year waiting lists as standard. Now the problems of deficits, chronic over-centralization, MRSA and insufficient jobs for trained personnel persist, but waiting lists?

The current target, which the health service will meet later this year, is for no one to be waiting for more than three months for anything at all, a colossal achievement, but one which seems invisible.

Other indicators last week provide grounds for something more than mre cautious satisfaction:

A survey for the NHS by the independent Picker Institute of 80,000 patients across 167 hospitals showed that 91 per cent of people feel the care in the NHS is good or excellent.

Revill concludes that the NHS 'is in rude health' which does not need 'another dose of abuse and criticism'. Maybe Brown's promised focus on it will be merely to disseminate more effectively the changes for the good which have occurred thanks to his ministrations? Possibly. But for the Conservatives to be leading Labour on health, after allowing the NHS to falter into atrophy after 18 years of their 'stewardship' is beyond belief. Thatcher claimed for the Tories that the NHS was 'safe in our hands'; it never was and in my view, never will be.

I'm sure that when the campaign for the next general election really gets going the public can be brought back to recognise Labour's achievements. We only have to challenge the Tory allegations of waste by asking, for example, if they really think 100,000 heart patients being alive instead of dead is a waste of money...

But meanwhile there are many diverse and mainly self-interested groups combining to give Labour a bad press. No professionals like organisational change or management interference. I remember the thousand and one reasons I would fathom up when my own department was under threat. From the comfort of semi-retirement I can now see that most of my arguments were wrong but I certainly believed them passionately at the time. Health workers', and especially doctors’, representatives are masters of spin. Changes, however well justified on health grounds, can nearly always be presented to the local media as closures and local protests are then easy to whip up. The infamous 'forces of conservatism' are hard to grind down...
Honest of you to admit you were once part of the 'forces of conservatism'...
As one of my bosses once put it: "Change? We don't do change, it's change wot causes all the trouble..."
The fact that the NHS has improved in leaps and bounds with Labour in charge, but that the public are reluctuant to believe it tells us that to the contrary to media consensus Tony Blair wasn't a great communicator he was in fact an appalling communicator of Labour's achievements - discuss??!!!
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