Monday, 18 October 2010

A Little Trip back in Time - NHS 1995

Oh yes my friends, I've had Crohn's a very long time.

I don't need to imagine what a Conservative government will do to the NHS, I've lived it already. The only thing that ever really surprises me is that memories are so short.

I think my first hospital stay of any length was in 1989, and over the years that followed I watched the NHS literally unravel at the seams. Of course, attitudes to patient care and diagnostics were very different two decades ago, but it's still possible to simply look at how 18 years of Tory rule had crushed our national health service to the point where it was nearly lost forever. When Tony Blair claimed the public had "24 hours to save the NHS" in 1997, for once, it was not just political hyperbole.

So let me take you back to 1995 and a ward in Addenbrookes.

I had a 12 inch abscess in my bowel at the time and it was undoubtedly the most unspeakable agony I've ever known. Virginia Bottomley, the Tory Health Minister had just hailed the end of the NHS, nurses were actually striking, junior doctors were regularly working 72 hour shifts or more and when the nurses weren't striking, they too were often working three straight shifts just to keep the wards running.

Sadly, most of the best nurses had simply left - often suffering from mental health issues after months and years of helplessness as they were forced to do a sub-standard job, to leave patients sitting in their own faeces or blood, leave them in pain or dressings unchanged. Some went to work in private clinics, some just gave up altogether, totally demoralised.

Training places had been cut year after year and we simply didn't have enough nurses or doctors to run our hospitals.

A nurse earned less than 12k a year - it was a national scandal, never out of the press.

Gladys was in the bed opposite. A lovely old dear who daily flirted with my Dad over a bag of humbugs. She couldn't sit up or hold a drink, and if we didn't do it for her, she simply went without. There was no-one to make sure she ate or didn't become dehydrated. A few months after we were both discharged, her family called to say she'd died of dehydration during another hospital stay.

Another old lady was obviously suffering from dementia, but it wasn't a dementia ward. As soon as the lights went off, she would scream and shout. One night, the nurses just left her in the toilet for two and a half hours so that the other patients could get some sleep. We could hear her pleading and crying behind the locked door.

I was on a feeding pump. My condition meant that I was dangerously underweight - just 5 stone 8 - and the dieticians had devised a high calorie regime for me that involved changing the feed every 8 hours. It never got done. In the end, my Dad and boyfriend came and lived in a camper van in the car park for a month and took 24 hour shifts, making up my feed in a blender, learning how to programme the pump and resolve blockages, just to keep me alive.

I needed a pain pump but they were all broken or being used. It took 2 weeks to get me one and the dear, dear nurse who'd spent 2 weeks on the phone pleading and begging for me got a cheer from the staffroom when she finally tracked one down.

One day, just one student nurse found herself in charge of our ward of 32 patients. Yes, it was illegal, yes it was dangerous, but she had no choice. An old man fell trying to get into bed and she had to get two other patients to help her lift him from the floor. She couldn't administer any controlled drugs and patients writhed and shouted out in pain for hours. She ran from bed to bed, but it was hopeless. After three hours, she simply marched off the ward and came back with a sister on each arm, telling them they were just going to have to stay until everyone was comfortable.

Tests were requested by consultants but not scheduled, as the systems struggled with demand. The food, outsourced to private companies under Tory plans, was a disgusting bland mush that your dog would refuse. Wards lay closed, corridors were full of trolleys, beds were scarce and even as an emergency it had taken me 4 days to be admitted.

People regularly died on trolleys waiting for a bed, hip replacement operations could take 18 months or more to be carried out, often leaving the patient with the dreadful choice : live in agony or pay to go private.

This is not abstract, nor is it an exaggeration. It didn't happen immediately - no, it started with a few "efficiency savings," but it took 18 years for everyone in the country to know someone who needed treatment but couldn't get it. 18 years for everyone to have a Mum or sister or Gran who had suffered in a broken system. 18 years for people to decide it was just not acceptable in a modern, caring society. 18 years for everyone to have spent at least one night in the chaos of an underfunded A&E department. 18 years for everyone to know of someone who'd suffered or even died from a misdiagnosis. 18 years for everyone to visit a friend left in their own muck for want of a nurse to change the sheets.

Don't let's wait 18 years this time eh?


  1. @Sue........Horrible, horrible story. Let me go back to 1978, Labour still in power, Jim Callaghan PM, my son was born in NewX hospital Wolverhampton, I won't go into the gory details but a healthy 9lb 8oz baby was damaged for life by the disgraceful behaviour of the maternity dept personnel. It took 5yrs to squeeze negligence damages out of a bunch of cowboys who tried every trick in the book to avoid taking responsibility. Panorama subsequently identified New X hospital as the worst maternity facility in Europe, thanks to my prompting, the Beeb, to their credit listened to what I had to say and acted upon it. This isn't politics Sue, it's just rank bad management.

  2. Terrible Ken, but as I said at the beginning of this post, a lot has changed over 2 decades, and even more over 3 and a half.

    Bad management certainly has a lot to answer for - it still does today, but that is different to what happened under the 18 years of the last Conservative gov. They underfunded, simple as that. They cut and they cut, they farmed out services to the private sector and stopped training enough staff.

    This isn't even patisan, just the simple truth. The only way to get excellent healthcare is to pay for it.

  3. My own barometer for the blue running down of the NHS was the changes on maternity wards over the 80’s.

    !981 - mothers expected to stay in hospital for 4 dys after birth of 1st child. Demonstration of how to bath, make up bottles, help with breast feeding, reassurance over worries and baby blues, picking up health issues.

    1985 – mothers discharged when they felt OK – no automatic ‘baby tuition’.

    1988 – 1st time mothers discharged within 24 hrs. Had to help themselves to food parked on ward. Hardly saw a nurse unless specifically summoned.

    @ Sue M – You really have been through so much …. Take care Syzygy

  4. @Sue...Your comment, " the only way to get excellent healthcare is to pay for it". With the greatest respect Sue, I couldn't disagree more, good design costs less than bad design, the same can be said of management, the NHS is a business school model of how not to run a service, it's politicised, its very nature prevents it from being efficient.

  5. Ken, Excellent management and no money just doesn't work. It's ridiculous to claim otherwise.
    My hospital has the most excellent management, but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear (as my Mum might say!)

  6. @Sue.......We ain't gonna' agree, it's called, 'running a tight ship' you don't see much of it in the public sector, where the managers are chosen for their ability to consume rather than deliver.
    By the way, you would get a better purse out of a sow's ear than you would out of silk, it's called creative thinking. :-)

  7. I am not going to pretend it was all bad under the Tories, five of my children were born during their eighteen years in power. Nevertheless, health should be the pursuit of excellence, not the acceptance of doing just enough to get by.

  8. @Warelane........Well said, pity that NHS managers and their political masters, of whatever hue, don't understand the concept. Money doesn't buy excellence.

  9. Ken - I think that's too easy.
    Blaming the managers will only ever take us so far.
    Certainly there could be efficiencies, I'll be pointing out many things I think we could change for the better over the coming weeks and months, but as Warelane said "Health should be the pursuit of excellence".
    It is not a coincidence that the NHS shot to second best health service in the world and the MOST efficient under Labour. Those pounds matter, but hopefully I'll be able to persuade you of that soon...

  10. @Sue........Persuade on please, I'm not convinced about the pursuit of excellence, only the delivery of excellence will satisfy me, there is a huge difference, pursuit is easy.
    I don't know what the statistics are, but isn't there a real danger of contracting some awful disease in our hospitals, the level of hygiene doesn't reflect a commitment to excellence.

  11. the NHS under the Tories was a shambles. In fairness to DC I think even he gets that. Investment to fix it cost a fortune and now in turn contributes to our debt. :)

    Oh and Ken,

    A wee red van? Maybe on Teeside to collect up all those lovely souls simple simon is referring to :)

  12. @Éoin.....I've got news for you, it ain;t fixed.
    By the way, postman Pat wouldn't be very welcome on Teeside.......he and his sidekick Mandy closed down their last ramaining steelworks.

  13. @Éoin......God, I'm getting worse than you......'remaining' :-)

  14. Ken,

    Big AJ is the MP for Hull, not a kick in the arse off Teeside :)

    Wasn't Chorus just sold... or did it close? Hmmm...

    As for the NHS, the only waiting list you arte accustomed to now is the waiting list to get off Anthony's naught step :P :P

  15. @Sue and Éoin.......3 weeks ago last Saturday a group of us from work abseiled down the Guy's hospital tower, ( 450ft), in support of the Anthony Nolan Trust, we raised a few quid in the process. The NHS contributed the tower and a health and safety jobsworth who wouldn't let us park a van near the entrance.

  16. Ken,

    But you see, had it all gone wrong and your van had been parked where you wished, the Daily MAil would have had the Jobsworth's googlies on a platter. It all goes back to Rupert.... hi spapers creat the mania, government are forced into knee jerk legislation. Jobsworth was but an innoecent victim.

  17. @Éoin.....You're quite right, a takeover by a far Eastern group was announced on 28th August 2010, nice to see some good news on Teeside, after the labour legacy of closures, makes me proud to be a Tory. :)

  18. Sue, thanks for sharing that, a reminder to us all how the NHS was neglected by 18 years of Tory rule, I will add to that education, how schools I was working in were literally falling apart for lack of maintenance, no resources for children, it was left to me to buy text books as school had no funding.
    Staffing would be to employ the cheapest applicant, experienced staff being too expensive.
    We cannot trust a party who will put profits before needs for people, who care nothing for ordinary people as long as they can "buy" private health, and private education.
    How on earth have we found ourselves in this dreadful situation yet again?

  19. @Pam.......As you can probably imagine, I don't agree with your analysis, it's chicken and egg, Labour burn money, Tories have to re-balance. How did we find ourselves in this dreadful situation, well, Labour have done it again....and of course, we aren't a one party state, it would seem that your views are echoed by a minority.

  20. My views are not a minority Ken, as you will soon see.
    Labour do not burn money, rather they invest in people, whereas as Sue has described Tories destroy lives.
    So Labour has done what again? If you mean it is evident and it can be seen they improved the living standards and prospects for people in this country? That is admirable. Of course the lies from the Murdoch press has influenced poeple to believe the global banking crisis was caused by the Bristish Labour Party, and the electorate were fooled, they forgot how bad it really was, they did not believe it could ever happen again.
    Now they are beginning to realise it has,it will get worse, unless the Liberals wake up and do not support this Tory agenda.
    What angers me is that the Tories did not win the General election, they do not have a manadate for this.

  21. Ken,

    It makes me proud to be a red that 'OneNorthEast' exists.

    How long before Geddes Osborne, I mean Gideon Osborne swings his axe and brings that beanstalk crashing down? :)

  22. @Éoin......25% of GDP in interest and growing, sounds like another Labour gig, if it needs chopping, chop it, I'm a gardener, I understand nature, cut back for stronger growth. :-)

  23. Ken, I'm a gardener too, for your plants to prosper you have to nurture and feed them, provide sunlight, else the weeds take over.

  24. @Pam........The weeds just got rooted out. :-)

  25. Ken,

    You're gonna end up in Iona, unless you retract your wind up on UKPR.

  26. Delighted to see you all here chatting on my little old blog. I'm so grateful for the support guys - the more people that support me, the stronger the voice I can be for the vulnerable.
    I've had an amazing first week - Sally Bercow tweeted the blog to her thousands of followers, as did Will Straw (Left Foot Forward)
    Alastair Campbell is one of my followers (imagine, my political hero interested in what I have to say.
    Finally, a fellow blogger wrote the most touching post asking his supporters to publicise my site (forgive me for gloating, but here's the link if you're interested )

    In my first week I got over 2,500 hits! I have no idea whether this is good or bad in the grand scheme of things, but it feels wonderful to me xx
    I can't thank you all enough.

  27. @Éoin.......My women will cut off their left breast and shield me from your Celtic hordes, some of them won't need to though, they have had their gender reassigned, free on the NHS. :-)

  28. @Sue......I hope that my contribution is useful, just remember, when you're rich and'll need a nice little hedge fund.

  29. Ken - Your posts are very useful indeed. I couldn't have a real debate without you and Colin, I'd just be preaching to the converted.

  30. Eoin - I refrained from mentioning Ivan in my post (DC's son that died) as it's such a sensitive subject.

    The only thing that actually reassured me about DC during the campaign was his apparent commitment to the NHS. It must be utterly impossible to go through what he and Samantha suffered, without truly getting to understand the NHS.

    I am still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this issue as I believe he must really understand why the NHS is so important

  31. I can't understand what Ken is trying to say to me. I don't see what it has got to do with lack of resources for public services. If he thinks they would be better privatised, I could agree with him, as long as everyone could avail themselves of the same services of education and health regardless of their income.

    Nobody moans that the drugs industry is privatised, as long as we all have equal access to their products when we need them. What's the difference with private hospitals?

    It's the fact that we can't that motivates me.

  32. Howard/Sue,

    Why does my photo not pop up when I post- Like you to guys? Its consigned to the sidebar, whcih does not seem very fair... I am useless at technology so help would be appreciated..

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. @Howard......I am frustrated by the lack of quality thinking and the desperate politicisation of everything, I love the idea of provision for those in real need....but why the lack of rigour in containing the inevitable mission creep, as soon as we start helping, a whole industry of chattering idiots tries to jump on the bandwagon, it must be a characteristic of public service. Where are the boundaries, who decides ?

  35. Eoin, You have to click on soemthing when you post..

  36. Ken, what are you going to do with the weeds you rooted out?

  37. @Pam........My grandson has two very happy guinea pigs, and a rabbit.

  38. @Pam......Whoops, wrong weeds. The weeds you allude to are leveraging their political experience to line their already bulging pockets, plus la change......! Socialism doesn't change.

  39. Ha ha! Though I think dandelions are poisonous to them but that might be the lettuce.
    I suppose the political analogy for the Tory party would be let the weeds grow, market economy, every plant out for itself, natural selection etc.

    It all depends what sort of garden you want.
    I feel I want to make a smiley, but I can't :-)

  40. @Pam....I think the enlightened gardener prefers a natural environment, inviting to all, controlled by the laws of nature, think woodland with deer, rabbits, butterflies and bees......very Tory. I expect a socialist garden would be strictly controlled with a 5 year plan.

  41. @Sue/Pam.........I have been trying to find a way of getting smilies to work on here, I find them very calming, and of course, being a Tory I prefer a touch of colour, ( do they do blue ?). :-)

  42. A few thoughts...

    One can only pursue excellence, as the point at which one believes it is achieved is when things inevitably get worse.

    Money won't buy excellence, but for a service that inevitably costs money, it is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition.

    Yes, there are improvements that want making that won't cost money - some will save money. There are also lots of improvements that will cost money.

  43. I did say it would cost money on today's blog - did you see that one?