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Why I refuse to worship the Neglectful Health Service


WRITING in the Telegraph, Allison Pearson confirmed many of our impressions that GP practices are using Covid as an excuse to avoid seeing patients. However, my own misgivings about the NHS go back many years. 

The Health Service is a socialist invention, and this bureaucratic State behemoth has become a new religion which only heretics dare to question.  

There are, and always have been, some doctors and nurses who are extremely caring. But we are expected to worship this institution, this ‘Divine Presence’, even on the occasions we are treated with dismissive rudeness and arrogance. 

Some examples.  All my life I have suffered from chronic asthma, which is a life-threatening condition. During my childhood, there was no effective treatment. Asthmatics were frequently dismissed as just ‘suffering from nerves’, as though asthma is a psychological disorder.  

It wasn’t the doctors’ fault that no decent inhalers were yet invented, but it was the sheer authoritarianism, the cocksure certitude, of many medics that struck me. 

Even when more effective inhalers began to appear, the attitude persisted and I was told by one GP that using an inhaler is ‘the most cowardly way’ of dealing with the condition. 

Another example.  When I became an adult, my father, who was in his seventies, suffered for a long time with increasing bronchial trouble. He was repeatedly given short shrift by his GP, who told him to stop making a fuss.  

Eventually he collapsed and was rushed to hospital. It was then confirmed that he had terminal lung cancer and would be dead in a matter of days or weeks. A week later he was dead. 

There is also the little-publicised scandal of the way people with chronic fatigue syndrome / ME have been treated (I have a close relative who has had this condition for years).  

This distressing ailment, which ruins people’s lives and has resulted in fatalities, has so often been labelled a psychological disorder, despite the fact that the World Health Organisation in 1969 regarded it as a biological disease. 

The ME Association has been for some time concerned that although increasing evidence shows that it is a biological disorder, patients are treated as though it is a personality deficiency. They indicated that NHS England promoted ‘graded exercise therapy’ and ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’, even though those have been discredited by academics and doctors worldwide. 

Dr Keith Geraghty, writing in Nursing in Practice on June 27, 2016, argued that the myth that the condition is ‘all in the mind’ has permeated medical discourse and popular culture’.  As an illustration, he quotes one GP who said ‘all those patients need is anti-depressants and a good pair of running shoes’.   

But the situation is worse than that of mere dismissive arrogance. MEAction Network has drawn attention to the fact that dozens of children have been threatened with sectioning under the mental health act for being unable to snap out of their long-term illness, on the grounds of ‘persistent refusal syndrome’ – which is not a recognised mental illness and has no empirical basis.   

To read about the case of ‘Gigi’, a teenage ME sufferer who was among those facing this nightmarish sanction, and other similar horrifying stories, look up MEAction for July 4, 2019

One more example. In 2017, I suddenly developed severe breathing difficulties and could hardly walk across the room. I was taken twice to the GP surgery but was told there was no cause for concern.  

It got worse and I was twice taken by emergency ambulance to hospital, but was sent home on both occasions. Eventually, one concerned GP rang the hospital consultant and demanded immediate attention as my temperature was high and the crackles on my chest suggested pneumonia. I was admitted and tests revealed that I had flu type B, so I spent a week in hospital on oxygen and drugs. 

Junior staff who attended me barely spoke or looked at me, but just carried out routine checks. My completed meal cards were repeatedly ‘lost’, there was no proper nutrition, and more than once I was just offered a bag of crisps.  

I was not visited by any doctors (until I saw the consultant on the day of my discharge) and the junior staff did not feel authorised to give me painkillers for the pain in my lungs.  There seemed to be no proper communication between departments and in some cases communication suffered from an inadequate grasp of the English language.   

Some people say they have been lucky with their NHS treatment. But it should not be a matter of luck. Like most State services, the NHS is bloated with administrators and managers and no politician wants to undertake the necessary reforms. 

Since Blair, GPs offer less and less. No home visits, reduced hours, and many work only two or three days a week on handsome salaries.  Triage systems seem designed to keep patients away.   

My local pharmacist informs me that he has a real fight to get repeat prescriptions (even for life-saving inhalers) because receptionists often fraudulently deny that they have received the email requests.  They are ‘so busy now’ of course that many waiting rooms are deserted and chairs removed. 

So, Allison Pearson, the present neglect of patients comes as no surprise to me, and this government has made matters worse. Clap for the NHS  ‘heroes’, Boris?   Not for them, nor for you. 

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Frank Palmer
Frank Palmer
Dr Frank Palmer is a philosopher and author. He was taught by Roger Scruton who was his PhD supervisor and during the 1980s was part of a thinktank of academics Roger formed to fight damaging trends in education. Frank’s last book was Literature and Moral Understanding (Oxford University Press).

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