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?