Is anyone really shocked to discover the National Health Service betrays Britain’s elderly?
The report by NHS Ombudsman Ann Abraham details ten cases where patients have been neglected, left hungry, without water, in squalor and in pain.
As anyone involved with the sordid saga of Stafford Hospital could confirm, these are not isolated incidents. Shabby treatment is commonplace.
Surely the time has come for us to accept the NHS is not the magnificent social benefactor we like to think it is.
Free health care – or, at least, care which is free when we need it – is a wonderfully humane ideal we all enjoy. The last thing we want is to be reaching for the credit card in the middle of a heart attack.
On the other hand, the very nature of the NHS leads its vast army of employees to see themselves not as the servants of their patients but as their masters.
The NHS is an organisation whose principle aim is to care for the welfare of its own staff. Second come politicians who claim credit for pouring our money into its ever-open maw. The patients come a poor third.
Horror stories of maltreatment at the hands of the NHS are legion.
After Ms Abraham’s report, the finger of blame has been pointed firmly at nurses whose duty it is to tend to the basic every-day needs of their patients.
Nurses do, indeed, deserve much of the blame. According to an old-school “angel” I was talking to the other day, what many modern nurses lack most of all is compassion.
There is little fellow feeling for the human beings they are supposed to be looking after.
My friend said she recently held the hand of a very sick man who was on his last legs. He smiled wanly at her and said: “Do you know, you are the first person in this hospital who has showed me any sympathy?”
It is not all the fault of nurses, though. The whole of the NHS culture needs to change.
Because we patients do not pay directly for our treatment, NHS staff see no need to treat us as customers who pay their wages.
They think they are doing us a favour by deigning to minister – however half-heartedly – to our needs.
At the start of the fifth inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal, his second as chairman, Robert Francis QC said he’d already heard “many stories of appalling care”.
As he listened, “the question that went constantly through my mind was, why did none of the many organisations charged with the supervision and regulation of our hospital detect that something so serious was going on, and why was nothing done about it?"
After his last inquiry, Mr Francis said: "The deficiencies were systemic, deep-rooted and too fundamental to brush off as isolated incidents."
The terrible truth is that the “systemic, deep-rooted and fundamental” deficiencies at Stafford Hospital can be found throughout the NHS.
In some cases, our hospitals kill patients who should survive. In others, they cause pain and humiliation.
Yet still we regard the NHS as some kind of totem, to be worshipped and protected from every attempt at change or reform.
One terrible day, each of us will fall into its clutches. When we do, of course we want happy, well-paid and well-trained staff to care for us.
The Government’s plans to reform the NHS, by giving family doctors the money to buy services, may help. Perhaps they will refuse to send patients to the most inhumane and degrading hospitals which will, as a result, be forced out of business.
Somehow I doubt if it’ll work like that. GPs are part of the problem. Every time I see my own doctor’s BMW with its personalised number plate, I think we must be paying him too much.
I never get a chance to discuss this with him, however, because it’s almost impossible to get an appointment in less than three weeks’ time.
Perhaps he thinks that, by delaying it so long, the patient will either be cured of their ailments and won’t need to be seen at all or they’ll be dead.