Limitations of the NHS

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This is a personal account by one of our readers, Glenn Meredith

I am 78 years of age and have been in the care of ******* Urology Department and latterly the Royal ******* Hospital from 2013. I will return to this. Thus, I am in what the NHS would call an “at risk” group, except that, factually speaking, I do not regard myself as such at all. When David Ogg states that, given the increase in the over 80’s cohort in the structure of the UK population, it was inevitable that this group was going take “a hit” in terms of its mortality, he was merely stating what ought to be obvious ; particularly when it is taken into account that many within this group are suffering from the kind co-morbidities that Private Eye’s MD speaks of. Furthermore, many of these diseases are products of the kind of life style choices offered by late capitalism: heart disease, obesity, some cancers are the obvious examples.

I assume that David Ogg had his tongue in cheek when he talked about planning to die. None of us can do any such thing -it is inevitable ; what we can plan to do, barring accidents of course,  is to live a long and healthy life. However, as Private Eye’s “MD” has said, this depends on access to money, plus I have to add, secure employment and pension rights, decent housing, a “worker friendly” working environment,  and an “enlightened” attitude towards how we spend our leisure time. This ought to lead onto a consideration of the vexed question regarding the legalisation of assisted suicide, so that after living a good life, we can be assured of a “good” death which involves the least pain and suffering both to ourselves and our carers.

Why the labour movement has not campaigned on the conditions outlined above in terms of a public health agenda is beyond me. Human beings are social animals. All forms of work, including education, are the “life process” (paraphrasing Marx)  by which this is realised. Lockdown is a totally individualising process, based on what Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing has called the “normalisation of fear”. I would argue that this represents a throw-back to Thomas Hobbes and his concept of the “war of all against all”. Of course, for Hobbes this is what would happen if the state did not seize control in order to guarantee “order” and simple human survival. He did not envisage it as a means by which the state could engineer order. (He could not, given the simpler conditions appertaining to the political economy of the seventeenth century, compared to those that govern our existence in the twenty first).

Nevertheless, I think the authoritarian individualism of lockdown is comparable to that envisaged by Hobbes. His model still stands as a comparator. Similarly,  vaccination represents a purely individualist solution to the incidence of COVID-19, which leaves untouched the many structural pre-existing socio-economic inequalities that have been documented by any number of authorities. If COVID-19 really had produced a plague-like emergency as the government’s propaganda claims, then the need for a mass vaccination programme, even including quarantine, would be unarguable. However, this is manifestly not the case. Instead, the lockdown is the source of any number of problems which will last well into the future. The obvious one consists of the number of excess deaths created by surgical operations which have not been carried out due to the “emergency”. Not so obvious, in the sense that they are difficult to quantify, are the mental health problems engendered by the individualism of lockdown.

Finally, I come back to myself, as stated in the first paragraph. In early February last year I underwent a roughly six-hour-long operation during about which two stones of sarcoma was taken out of my abdomen. In addition, part of my colon was removed due to the fact that the sarcoma was sitting on top of it; thus, in order to remove the sarcoma, part of my colon had to be taken out with it and that organ re-engineered, so to speak. Now, at a very basic level, that operation was an illustration of the NHS at its best. If for instance I were an American, it is quite likely that I would be dead by now. In addition, I regard myself as to be lucky to have been treated as an inpatient before the full force of the emergency took hold. I have to attend the Royal ******* for check-ups and have done so three times as an outpatient since the operation.

So far, so good. However, the consultant in charge of the operation told me during a preliminary examination that what I had come to regard as the alien had been gestating inside me for maybe twenty years. That meant it I would have been carrying it during the six years I attended ******* Urology Dept (2013/19). Despite having two operations and various procedures there, no one noticed. After leaving the Royal ******* Hospital, I took the matter up through ******* PALS system, but got nowhere. The consultants who are based there work to highly specific very specialised job descriptions, which I would not dare to argue with. However, what bothers me is that they seemed incapable of stepping outside of those very specific remits. In other words, they did not think holistically and they gave an impression to me of closing ranks and thus behaving like any bureaucracy whose methods are being questioned.

To go back to the beginning: that is why I look askance at the slogan “Protect the NHS”, my answer has to be: “not in its present form”!

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