Put directly, during last week I was aware of some kind of virus-like symptoms which were gradually becoming more serious. A volcanic, ribcage-rattling cough was later joined by a shortness of breath and a seriously snotty cold. Was it Covid? I’d been on a pub crawl with friends the previous Friday. Though, more importantly, had also had a booster jab.
But last Saturday, matters came to a head. The breathing got worse and nothing to hand - inhalers to manage asthma - was any use. By late afternoon I knew that doing nothing would see me exit the house feet first. So a call to 999 it had to be. Within half an hour, an ambulance crewed by two paramedics had arrived to try and turn matters round.
They broke out a nebuliser. They were sure this would be familiar to me. It wasn’t. “But you’ve got asthma!” True, but it was a condition well managed, there had been no serious attack for around 40 years, and so nothing more than inhalers and monitoring was needed. Some improvement was made but the decision was made to take me to A&E.
And so, at around 1800 hours, I was wheeled into Leighton Hospital, a chair having been wheeled out as my mobility was deteriorating rapidly. There was a queue, but not a long one: soon, in a side room, medics and nurses got to work administering a cocktail of drugs. I was moved to a quiet corner of the area to get some rest.
Later in the evening, being wheeled by trolley to X-Ray (chest X-Ray is more or less obligatory in such cases), I saw the A&E queue at its longest, a line of chairs and trolleys waiting patiently for diagnosis. It looked grim. But they would all be seen: if necessary, they would be treated, and a few would be admitted. The NHS sees everyone.
The duty doctor eventually got round to me at around 0100 hours on Sunday morning. There was, he declared, no way I would be sent home in that state. This meant being admitted. Another nebuliser followed, along with a call for a nasal cannula. So began my first encounter with supplemental oxygen. It became quite a lengthy one.
At around 0240 hours, there were two news items: it was a virus, but not Covid (it’s RSV, and especially affects older people with underlying respiratory problems). Also, a bed had been found for me. A nurse wheeled my trolley through a maze of corridors to South Cheshire, formerly a private unit but now used mainly for Covid patients. The individual rooms make distancing between those patients easier to manage. The A&E queue had just been cleared. All who came had been seen and treated.
With the attention of the ward team came a stabilised, and indeed, slightly improving condition. There is not much to do when confined to your room on a hospital ward, but it is infinitely better than chancing your life and not bothering when matters are out of your control. RSV can be fatal; let’s say I got the sneak preview. When I had a real Near Death Experience, and really needed the NHS, it was there for me. For now, at least.
Leighton Hospital, Crewe: aerial view looking south
Why the NHS may cease to be there for any of us in future, at least the 90+ percent of the population unable to shell out and go private, as right-wing parliamentarians, equally partisan members of the media class and their hangers-on are, became clear to me as I watched life in the South Cheshire ward play out over my four days there.
The ward is run by a team, all of whom, whatever their rank, wear similar blue overalls. Some, like specialist doctors, wear badges which you may be able to read close up. Otherwise, cleaner, HCA, Nurse, Doctor, Physio and other specialists are just another part of a team providing care. Tories must hate it. Because their press pals will hate it.
In Daily Mail la-la-land, the ward should be a land of hierarchy, where the colour of nurses’ freshly-starched uniforms clearly shows their rank and seniority. This is an unshakeable part of their Back To The 50s reality, as is the presence of an all-powerful Matron, a presence that in reality would do little more than waste everyone else’s time.
Worse still for those out there on the right, a uniformly non-uniformed team makes a highly egalitarian statement. So does the care they provide: the duty Doctor sees every patient, administering to all, listening to all, and favouring none. All patients select their food from the same menu, and all eat at the same mealtimes. All receive their day’s medication on the same Nurse’s round. All those seeing the Physio do so on the same daily round.
There is no-one paying more to jump the queue, obtain the benefit of a more upmarket standard of cuisine, have a little beer or wine brought to their room, or even have a lot of beer and wine brought to their room. But there is a team of truly diverse age, gender and ethnicity. Many of whom are putting in five 12-hour shifts every single week.
Egalitarian. Teamwork. Equality of care, and care for all. For right-wingers, this is hell on earth, almost a manifestation of communism. It is a manifestation that, in going against the false memory planted by the Mail and other propagandists, those propagandists must oppose and seek to either bend to their will - or have done away with altogether.
You want to know why so many on the right come over all froth at the mouth and blind intolerance at the very mention of the NHS? Spend a few days in an NHS hospital.
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Sorry to hear you've not been well, Tim. I thought something might be up when you hadn't posted anything for more than a few days. I hope you are well on the way to recovery. All the best.
been following for several years now. Therefore, I have been surprised when you didn't update your blog for the past week.
hoped it was only for work, or maybe some festive reason. But couldn't dispel the fear it was for something else.
I am glad to learn that you managed it safely.
like you (and I'm sure many people), it's hard to take stock of how useful and essential (and value for money too) it is to be able to enjoy a universal healthcare system, until the day come that you have to check in for a serious condition.
take good care of yourself, and I'll thank your post for reminding me to always keep a silent thought of gratitude to all the doctors, nurses and staff that look after me whenever I have to do my cancer follow-ups
Ask anyone who has spent time in hospital what they thought and the vast majority will say they were treat very well.
The number of people who spend significant time in hospital between being born and their last breath is actually a very low percentage of the total population, especially in the first 50 years of life. Take out accidents and injuries and that percentage is even lower.
There are therefore very few of us who have relevant and recent real life experience of what it is like, most getting their knowledge and 'opinion' from the NHS haters based on the few reported poor experiences.
You have found what I found when my wife had major surgery almost 3 years ago which was a complete success.
The NHS is a truly miraculous institution and when you really need them they will be there to do all they can and I hope you are now on the road to recovery.
The Tories hate the BBC and the license fee for the same reason. Too close to socialism. For them it's about choice, in this case the choice to pay Sky, Netflix and the rest, eye watering amounts for a fraction of the content the BBC offers.
PS Welcome back.
Sorry to hear you’ve been ill Tom, it will be a year on Monday that my mum died on one of those same Covid wards (Ward 5) at Leighton and I agree with all you have said.
I had what sounds like a similar flu virus all last week, though without any other respiratory problems it sounds like I got off lightly.
The NHS staff saved my life too, Tim.
I'm glad they saved you too.
We need you....badly.
Stay safe. Stay strong.
Yes, I wondered where you were too. Glad you're on the mend and back to fighting the right
Good to see you back,Tim, and in very good form judging by this gently hard-hitting piece.
Long may you flourish. And long may you keep hitting the target as effectively as you have here.
Good to see you're OK.
Good to see you back Tim. We were worried about you. Speaking as a retired NHS worker, my heart bleeds over what is happening to this totally unique institution. Earlier in the year my husband was blue lighted to hospital and received wonderful care, but our local GP service which was privatised by stealth 5 years ago has become virtually non existent. Nowadays to achieve a viewing it seems you have to write an essay on "Why you Need to See a Doctor". I have fairly low expectations that things will improve
Best wishes to you Tim and an excellent piece.
I've only spent one night in hospital (discounting birth) and I have to say it was a very similar experience. Everybody was brilliant from start to finish from the doctor who finally (that's not a criticism) managed to see me at about 1am to the lady who brought breakfast round in the morning. This was a couple of years ago so before covid but good to hear that despite everything going on the people on the ground are still the same fantastic bunch they always have been and let's hope always will be.
Very good insightful article Tim, and so glad you called 999. I hope staff get to read your eoncomium. RSV sounds dreadful. I was at Guys last Friday for a chronic condition I have had for 21 months. It was like a mini-city and so busy. Yet the staff, went out of their way to be pleasant, helpful, calm, efficient and kind. The NHS has been underfunded for years under the Tories and still is, but Blairite Alan Milburn was little better, and Brown, well PFI has been a financially crippling. But it has been so so bad under the Tories. Loads of doctors left because of Jeremy Hunt who was a disaster, then Matt Hancock got his hands on contracts for friends the a greedy monster, and Javid is inciting GPs to revolt. The Tories are a poisonous fungus on the body politic.
Thank you for writing this.
I am immensely privileged to work for the NHS as an interpreter - I've seen every aspect of the care the staff provide from birth to end of life, surgery, minor injuries, and psychiatry. When I had appendicitis my local hospital admitted me at 1 AM on a Sunday morning, triaged and scanned me by 4 AM, operated on Monday night and discharged me on the Tuesday morning - I was back at work on the Thursday.
Successive Tory governments have done their utmost to destroy the NHS* - even though a majority of their own voters support the NHS** - and I cannot think of a better reason to arrest the whole lot of them,lock them up and throw away the key.
*and other public services **likewise.
PS I'm glad you're better, Tim. Look after yourself.
Glad to hear you are OK. The NHS saved my life twice decades ago. After moving to Australia it's socialized health care system, Medicare has done so similarly 3 times in the past 5 years. I hate what politicians are trying to do to the NHS. Brits need to get to the point Australians have with our Medicare: any government, left or right that dares to privatize any section of Medicare risks electoral suicide. Rather all political parties compete as to who can fund it best.
Blair and Brown expansion of PFI in the NHS was an endorsement of profiteering from the most vulnerable of humanity. It tells you all you need to know about their right wing politics.
Meanwhile, we continue to pick up the bill for that thievery. Plus repairing hospitals jerry-built by bankrupt Carillion spivs.
Glad, to see you are back and in top form. Great piece on why we must defend the NHS.
Glad to hear you're on the mend. Got a little worried with you not having posted for a while especially as you're normally so regular. Carry on the good work :-)
Good to see you back. I as worried for a bit as this fantastic resource had no updates for a few days.
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