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The trouble with writing about the NHS these days is that the easiest thing is an embittered rant about underfunding and general deterioration. No-one wants to read that, especially after a hard day dealing with those things head-on.
So, reluctantly, I discarded the working titles, ‘Why the NHS is doomed’, ‘Should we all just give up?’ and ‘Sustainability and transformation, my arse’ and decided to try something positive.
Ali was wheeled into the child development centre clinic in a baby buggy. Despite being eight years old, his emaciated frame still fitted easily, although his head lolled out sideways. He had severe cerebral palsy and had recently arrived from a Middle Eastern warzone.
During his speech and language therapy assessment it became manifestly obvious that he could barely swallow and was aspirating with every mouthful. So we packed him off to hospital for a nasogastric tube, until something more permanent could be arranged.
I visited him there, while his parents were learning to use the tube. He was lying in bed, surrounded by his family and giggling away like crazy, pausing only to smile broadly at everyone. ‘Is he always so happy?’ I asked his father. ‘He’s happier now he doesn’t always have a problem with his chest,’ was the reply.
Ali gained 20 per cent of his bodyweight over the next month and continues to make good progress. A proper wheelchair was eventually found for him and he’ll shortly be starting school for the first time ever.
It’s not a dramatic success story. No-one was snatched from the jaws of death, and Ali’s disabilities remain profound and incurable. But for transformation of quality of life, I’ve rarely seen such a complete win. And all with a flexible rubber tube and some fortified milk.
It’s facile and insulting to claim our health system, even the worst bits, is ‘third world’. We notice our failures and limitations – and there are plenty of both – because success has become the norm. It can be frustrating when some patients assume everything is curable now, but this belief is informed by the astonishing progress of healthcare, and health, over recent decades.
Life expectancy in the UK has gained 12 years in the last 50. Infant mortality has fallen by almost 60 per cent in my lifetime. More than half of cancer patients survive long term. Childhood leukaemia has become a generally curable condition. And with the simplest and cheapest of our interventions, properly used, we can save and improve lives that would have been stunted, in every sense, without them.
We have a lot to fight against, especially now, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. But neither should we forget that we have an awful lot to fight for too.
Miranda Barry is a junior doctor
There is no doubt that all our NHS staff deserve our full support and have not caused the situation making life miserable for staff and patients alike. But as a patient may I ask how much NHS staff understand about the destruction underway around them? I was shocked when supporting on the junior doctor's picket lines, to discover how little these doctors knew about the NHSE plans for our NHS in England. I understand reluctance to get involved publicly in the fight to stop privatisation after the disgraceful treatment meted out to Dr. Chris Day in his fight for proper protection for junior doctors in whistle blowing cases. However I do wonder if staff might put pressure on the Minister via their unions to at least expose the privatisation and destruction by a thousand cuts we, the patients see. We can't leave ALL the fight for our NHS to Professor Hawking can we?
"It’s facile and insulting to claim our health system, even the worst bits, is ‘third world’. We notice our failures and limitations – and there are plenty of both – because success has become the norm."
It's also facile and insulting for some to claim that our heath system is as good as it can be and adequately funded.
Because it's not third world doesn't make it acceptable!
It's great to celebrate success but we MUST strive for better - greatness is probably a step too far but 'just great' would suffice for now!.......................... but we're a long way off!
Refreshing to hear someone recognising that moaning achieves little. General Practice has moaned itself into near terminal decline. Thanks.
Thanks for the positive comments. I'm a 5th year medical school student who is struggling to keep going at the moment so to hear something uplifting amongst all the negativity that currently surrounds the NHS is great.
There's hope, anonymous medical student. If not here, elsewhere. Don't give up!
I agree, there is hope. But more than that we must remember that there is so much that a doctor can do on a day to day basis here and now for each patient they are in contact with. Listening to people and showing that you care about them is incredibly healing in and of itself. This then has a ripple effect beyond them to their families and friends. Believe in yourself my fellow doctors, we change lives for the better every day.
Thank you, that has lifted my day when I was feeling rather negative about the NHS. I also agree with the other comment about getting involved with the management of the NHS so that it is not eroded by ignorant politicians. But, where to find the time is another challenge!
Gillian Steggles, Researcher
Sometimes, the one thing following a treatment that promotes healing is time.
Clinicians are in possession of vast quantities of knowledge, only a tiny amount of which comes into the picture for a single patient consultation. So the clinician chooses from his or her experience how to start the patient's healing process, and will continue with that for as long as the patient remains in his or her care.
So the patient really needs to take the doctor's advice, which will have been debated and reached after consulting with themselves.
This is what medicine consists of.
If the patient needs further help, another doctor will repeat this process with the patient.
Realism on a personal, individual level could resolve quite a lot of "the NHS's problems" if patients could, with good grace, accept their less-than-perfect state of health and, with friends and loved ones celebrate, as has been suggested by "Anonymous" above, how much good can sometimes be done by really listening to medical advice and then making the most of it.
We are all human, which implies frailty.
Doctors are there to help us each make the most of ourselves - in our life, at the time we consult them.
When looked at like this, our dear, precious NHS is - so far - still there to look after us from the cradle to the grave. And does so, still quite wonderfully.
It's just a shame our professional body doesn't find us worth fighting for.
Illnesses can be terribly destructive.
That is why medical people are trained, to become able to moderate, halt, and sometimes reverse the destruction of a patient's life that an illness is wreaking, at the time of a consultation.
I do think that accepting medical advice, sometimes with a second opinion if really desired, and then after careful consideration, is one of the most healing things a patient can do for themselves. Talking with family and friends about it is commonly also enormously helpful.
Money is finite. The country's money is finite. Doctors are trained not just in medicine but in health service priority management, even at a grass roots level, so they know the kinds of treatment that may prove inordinately expensive.
The NHS finds itself in a world where wanton destruction of human life has been practised (the holocaust, remembered this week). Preservation of human life is its goal.
Being thankful for small mercies can help big problems remain tolerated until they can be resolved. Each and every doctor in the NHS is working themselves into the ground to keep the beauty and joy of human life accessible to the British population.
As patients, which all of us are at some point in our lives, the one thing we can do in the midst of the NHS's difficulties is to support our doctors, and to do this by taking their advice and doing as much for ourselves as we can to help ourselves.
As doctors, keeping talking is the major life-saver. If you need time off at your reached limit, act on your need - so that you can continue at the work you love, as every doctor who has ever lived almost invariably does and has done.
Fresh ideas are one of the ways progress can be achieved. If you have an idea, make sure you air it with colleagues, and don't be afraid to make it official.
The junior doctors' strike was crushed. The government has an onus to improve conditions for all doctors, such as resolving the ....... problem that was created about the senior consultants' tax position, and making sure adequate rest facilities are provided, and food sources, for hard working and usually exhausted junior doctors. The government is responsible ultimately for the state of health of the NHS' staff. Evidence for the arguments should be agreed among staff, fought for as the junior doctors did when presenting it to management and government, and then all staff should vigorously join together to celebrate the brilliant work they do and have done, to justify themselves in their evidenced enterprises on behalf of the NHS and its patients.
Morale is absolutely key. Everybody knows absolutely real apparent miracles happen daily in Britain's NHS.
Quite a lot of people write in gratefully about these.
Cynics and moaners about the NHS make me see red.
Genuine suffering is being undergone by NHS staff, and every one of them deserves to know, be sure, to celebrate inside themselves and to exult in the priceless value of their work and of themselves as people. Every time a NHS staff member feels terrible about conditions, they should be able to remind themselves of this because of the high morale that their work deserves to create in the NHS.
I think one weapon in relation to governments is shaming. The pride belongs to all, every single one, of the NHS' working professionals.