70 years on. Is the NHS Broken?
No. The NHS is far from broken. It’s a jewel that needs attending to, polishing and appreciated, but it’s certainly not broken. Perhaps the attention needs to be more on broken members of our society rather than the organisation that saves thousands of lives.
I wonder how many of us can say that we do the best we can to support our future health and wellbeing?
I’m a survivor of several heart attacks, so I feel qualified to speak about the NHS from my first hand experience over a span of many years.
Yesterday we celebrated the 70thBirthday of the NHS and I spent the majority of the day at the QE Hospital in Birmingham. Not for a birthday party, no time for that, everyone was too busy saving lives.
My first appointment was in cardiology with my consultant Professor Francisco Leyva.
Professor Leyva has been my cardiac consultant for 13 years. I have followed him from one hospital to another as his career has progressed. A nurse told me at the very beginning of my heart attack journey, to stick with the consultant that I could build a relationship with. I was being given so much conflicting advice on the best approach to my rare heart condition, that I was going round in circles. Her advice was most helpful; ‘Go with the consultant you feel you can talk to, and that listens to you. Chose one and stick with them’.
So Prof Leyva is my chosen one and he can’t get rid of me now!
So, besides discussing the state of my heart, we had put some personal time aside to chat about the NHS. I wanted his views.
Professor Leyva knew he wanted to be a doctor from an early age growing up in Spain. It was the mechanics of the body that intrigued him. He loved to see how electricity could make things move as a child and now, having been in the NHS for 31 years he still finds it incredible that by adding electricity to part of the heart muscle you can save a life.
Listening to him speak with passion and clarity about his work, it started to dawn on me how wrong we are to talk about the NHS as a ‘machine’. We need to appreciate that it is made up of living, breathing individuals, like Professor Leyva.
“The NHS by far the best health organization that I’ve seen in the world. What the NHS does best is provide comprehensive healthcare regardless of the person and their situation. The NHS is properly free unlike any other system. It deals with emergencies in the same way that it deals with advanced treatments. It’s very efficient in delivering what it does.
It’s nonsense that the NHS is broken. It needs to be better understood. The American system is broken where delivery is not free at the point of care; where your treatment does depend on who you are and the amount of money you’ve got. Here, your treatment doesn’t depend on any of that so it’s the antithesis of a broken system. No other system in the world is as comprehensive as the NHS.”
I asked him about some of the individuals that make up the NHS, the ones that have pushed it to be where it is today. Do they get a chance to shine?
Professor Leyva explained how the government could be more encouraging to enable more personal brilliance.
The Clinical Excellence Awards are in existence to distinguish and reward those who go above and beyond what is expected of them. But the government is phasing out the awards. It strikes me as a similar effect to not letting children be too competitive at school sports day. Surely we need to celebrate initiative and excellence and individual achievements?
Perhaps the government is seeing the NHS as one large moving machine, and not as individuals.
If a ‘jobbing’ clinician comes into work and only ever completes the work set out in his contract, nothing would ever move forwards. The NHS would stand still. But these doctors are exceptional people who have ideas and plans to help you and me. These doctors are the ones who have set up new services that will benefit the community as a whole – It is these individuals that have piloted screening programmes for breast cancer, heart disease and heart failure. These are programmes that have made a huge difference to the NHS and to the entire community. It’s not in their contracts but individuals who want to do this should be celebrated, recognized and recompensed. After all, there are services that not only save lives, but also save the NHS millions of pounds in the long run.
30 years ago when Prof Leyva started in medicine, a heart attack was treated with an aspirin and morphine. That was it. Now we have clot busting drugs, stents, bypass surgery and a host of procedures in between. These new lifesaving methods haven’t just come about by chance. This machine called the NHS hasn’t just plucked these new treatments out of thin air – We have these new treatments at our disposal because some passionate, caring and very clever individuals have taken it upon them selves to move forward, learn, try, pilot, roll out and make it work.
By saying the NHS is broken, we are saying each of these individuals is broken and that’s certainly not the case
After my cardiology appointment I was invited to visit the Birmingham Women’s Hospital. This is another haven of excellence that needs to be shouted about and celebrated.
The hospital sees around 8500 births a year. But my conversations were not about numbers, they were heartfelt conversations that touched me enormously.
I spoke with Nicky Fitzmaurice who is Deputy Head of Nursing and takes care of families and their babies who are dying.
Nicky spoke about the hospitals large genetics laboratory, the work they do separating placentas in twin pregnancies and the research they do to help women delivering babies all over the world without the safety equipment and medicines that we are privileged to get in the UK.
But her real passion and compassion shone through when she told me what she considers to be their most important work at the Women’s Hospital.
It’s clear that the Women’s Hospital can be a very happy place to be, but it can also be incredibly sad. They look after mums who have lost or are losing their babies. Some miscarry at 9 or 10 weeks, some mums find out at their 20 week scan that the baby has died, others give birth to still born babies or babies that only have a very short time to live.
Nicky talks quietly and thoughtfully and wants to ensure I am OK to talk about this difficult subject – she asked had I been affected by the subject… I have but I wanted to hear what she had to say.
“Really I am a bereavement nurse. I used to be a McMillan nurse and now I help people who are dealing with bereavement surrounding precious babies.
When a family loses their baby, they deal with it in different ways. No one wants to be placed on the maternity ward surrounded by pregnant mothers and newborn babies when their baby has died. Some like to sit and hold their babies, or bathe them. Others like to dress them or walk them in a pram for a while. We want to provide all these people with a space that has no rules, that is designed to support their grieving without having to rush, listen to beeping machines or think about anything else.
We built a house for the families at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital called Magnolia House. This provides them with a different kind space to any that the hospital can offer. And now we want to build another house in the grounds here at the Women’s Hospital, Dandelion House. I am speaking with families who have used the space at Magnolia House to ask their advice on what matters most.
It’s the small things that seem to help. Being close to nature when you are receiving life-changing news is something that is often mentioned, so we will make sure we have large windows, a pretty garden and fresh air circulating. Having the right kind of chairs is important and having enough seating for everyone, the whole family matters too. Even the cups we serve tea in matter – we don’t want sharp edges that cut into a clenched fist when someone is hanging onto their sanity because their baby is dying.
We want to provide an air of discretion, but with medical assistance on hand quietly in the background.
All the nurses and midwives are raising funds to help build Dandelion House. They all care deeply about the families that visit us. We all want to ease the pain a little if we can. We value loss and want to treat it with love and empathy, with kindness and quietness. We do it because it’s the right thing to do and I think we all appreciate that it’s magical to be able to give families a choice in the moments of their deepest grief’
As I listened to Nicky talk, I realised again that it is so wrong to say the NHS is broken. By saying that we are saying that Nicky is broken, her nurses are broken, her midwives, auxiliary nurses, healthcare assistants, surgeons and consultants are all broken.
They are not.
They are compassionate, capable, ambitious people who are never willing to accept stillness in the continuum of medicine.
They are people with a passion to make every part of your medical care the best it can be.
They are there to pick up the pieces when things go wrong and to support your next steps when things go right. Very often this is done in their own time, off the clock and they do it because they are all angels who deserve our support and not our criticism.
So, the next time you hear someone say the NHS is broken, perhaps you’d like to ask them to look in on themselves and identify where their cracks are, and how willing they are to put in the extra hours to support those who support us.
If you feel you could help with the fundraising for Dandelion House – please take a peek HERE