By Norman Thomas
It costs £150 to get a cab from St Thomas’s Hospital, London, to Broadstairs, east Kent where I live.
I had to get one after my recent heart attack.
My partner and I eventually got home at half hour past midnight driven by an ex-boxer with a dodgy hip who distracted himself by occasionally stopping and strolling along the hard shoulder in the pouring rain.
Time was the hospital might have sent us home in an ambulance or car especially for patients.
Now this service is run by G4S, the world’s largest security company, and purveyor of private soldiers.
Our car was delayed for hours, then mysteriously cancelled, then broke down.
You won’t be surprised to find out that G4S, who also runs private prisons, received over 1500 complaints in just a year of running patient transport in west Kent.
Don’t get me wrong. St Thomas’s hospital performed a miracle in saving my life — for which I will be forever grateful.
But is having to travel almost a hundred miles from your home into one of the most congested cities in the world the best option for your treatment?
I don’t think it is — not for a pile of reasons.
And I don’t think it has to be like that.
I remember what a bunch of enthusiastic people at a health service “listening event”were chorusing to me.
They were saying: “Do you want the best service possible?”
I didn’t quite get it to begin with.
Of course I want the best service possible.
Then the penny dropped.
They meant — do you want your health service either as NEAR to you as possible —or as GOOD as possible?
Which is when the con in this consultation sinks it
They want, of course, for you to say you want the best possible — and that’s because they have a very obvious agenda which, as it happens, fits snugly with the government agenda.
And that’s to have fewer hospitals, fewer facililities, more centralisation, more specialisation.
This, too, is what’s at the heart of the much hyped “sustainable transformation partnerships” being entered into by health and local authorities, gps and assorted medicos across the country.
Strip everything back to the mininumum, merge what you can and privatise what you can’t.
You’ll get the best service money can buy, the experts reckon.
You (and your visitors) will just have to travel further and further to get to it.
But what I believe is rather than fewer hospitals we need MORE.
And many of our existing hospitals, like Thanet, need to be be bigger and better.
Of course, there’s always going to be a place for specialisation — but there has to be a balance, too.
After all, the way the NHS works now is that hospital staff are constantly learning from other staff. I saw it all around me.
They eagerly watch pieces of technology being used in the white heat of Ward emergencies, working out to solve vital problems on the job. From beginner nurses to the most advanced surgeons, they’re all always learning, growing, absorbing every bit of experience that comes their way.
Rob a hospital of too much of that experience, of that variety of work and you increasingly rob staff of the goldust they need to grow.
Of course, say this kind of thing too loudly and someone will almost certainly hit you with the “bottomless pit argument” — as in “we haven’t got a bottomless pit you know.”
But a hospital isn’t a bottomless pit.
On the contrary, a hospital is probably the most important thing a community can invest in.
But we have to invest in the right KIND of hospital.
Not just the kind of hospital that can perform the kinds of life saving miracles like St Thomas’s performed on me.
But the kind that will form a health service dedicated to stopping us getting sick in the first place.
It’s like what they set out to do in Cuba.
You take your medicine to the people.
You make people’s well-being your number one priority.
You build up unparalleled medical skills, the envy of much of the world.
But you also end up with a population whose standard of health so high that they need far less treatment.
It’s what we really need — a true national health service instead of what it’s fast becoming — a national sickness service.
And a hospital down the road, maybe, rather than a 200 mile round drive away.