I’ve never felt so utterly let down and helpless in relation to my own health as I did on Wednesday 27 May 2015 when, after a dash to Moorfields Eye Hospital at the crack of dawn, I was diagnosed with my fifth retinal detachment. After several hours of waiting and various examinations, I was advised to go home as they wouldn’t be able to operate that day. As any RD patient will know, retinal detachment is a medical emergency, leading to loss of sight if not treated swiftly. In cases where the macula has detached, a delay in surgery of up to one week won’t really affect the final visual outcome, but if the macula is still attached, surgery within 24 hours is strongly recommended.*
At the point of this diagnosis, my macula was still on. The reason Moorfields couldn’t fit me in for surgery that day was that they’d had a number of other patients in that morning with retinal detachments. As I’d already had multiple detachments, the prognosis for a good visual outcome in my case was poor, and I was told that I wasn’t a clinical priority. To say that I was upset by this was a massive understatement. “But I’m in hospital… you’re supposed to help me, not send me home! It isn’t even just any old hospital – this is the world-renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital!”, screamed the voice inside my head, in disbelief and dismay. But there was nothing to be done. When I asked one of the doctors if it was worth waiting in case they were able to operate that day after all, he advised me to go home and wait for a ‘phone call.
I trudged back to the station along with my sister, with a heavy heart and failing eyesight as the detachment continued its relentless progression. My sister was furious, and fumed about the unfairness of them sending me away. Although hugely upset, I pointed out that there was little which the hospital could do. If they didn’t have the resources to cope with the number of patients, it was only logical that they’d prioritise cases which had the best chance of a good outcome. I didn’t blame the hospital, but understanding the situation did nothing to diminish its terror. I spent the rest of that day, and the night, and most of the following day gradually losing more vision in my eye and feeling absolutely petrified that my macula would detach again. Eventually, I received the long-awaited ‘phone call from Moorfields in the early afternoon of the following day. I was told to go in immediately, but warned that they still may not be in a position to operate that day. Fortunately, I eventually went into surgery that evening, and it was around 9pm when I emerged from the operating theatre.
It’s bad enough having to cope with the trauma and ongoing anxiety of RD, without having the additional worry that the hospital may not have the resources to be able to help when needed. Clearly, this goes for any serious health issue. If something grim happens, we want to be able to rest assured that at least we’ll receive the best treatment available and will be well cared for. But how can we expect this to happen if the NHS isn’t cared for itself? In January, the British Red Cross warned that the NHS was facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ as hospitals and ambulance services struggled to keep up with increased demand. There were horrific newspaper articles describing patients on hospital trolleys piled up in corridors, as well as chronic bed shortages and staffing problems. There were shocking reports of deaths which occurred partly as a result of these issues. It’s common knowledge that there are serious problems in the NHS and unfortunately many people have first-hand knowledge of this, to a greater or lesser extent.
Yet, despite the fact that demands on the NHS are increasing, it appears that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition and the current Conservative government have put less money into it than it has received in the past. Have a read of this BBC article, which states that the average annual rise of money going into the NHS since it was created in 1948 has been just over 4%. During the Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, it was almost 7%. Now, numbers aren’t my strong point so bear with me here and please correct me if I’m wrong, but if you have a look at the chart under paragraph 6 of the above article, it looks as if the average annual increase in government spending on health from 2009/10 to 2014/15 was only just over 1%. Note the points made beneath the chart:
As you can see the period since 2010 has seen the tightest financial settlements. What is more, the spending squeeze is continuing during this Parliament at almost exactly the same rate, even with England’s extra £8bn going in.
Ministers in England are right to say they are increasing funding – it’s been frozen in Wales and Scotland – but it’s just that it doesn’t compare favourably with what the NHS has traditionally got.
Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes over the 10 years to 2020, the NHS budget across the UK will not have increased enough to keep pace with the ageing and growing population.
Not only has the Conservatives’ lack of sufficient funding for the NHS had a hugely detrimental effect, they also appear to be pretty much kicking the NHS into the ground with many of their other policies. We had the junior doctors’ strikes as a result of dangerous contracts being enforced upon them; we currently have the risk of EU workers (including doctors and nurses) relocating because the Tory government won’t guarantee their rights following the referendum result; the 1% pay cap for NHS staff is resulting in nurses resorting to food banks and creating a recruitment and retention crisis; and the abolition of NHS bursaries has led to a 23% drop in applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities. The Tories really do seem to be a tad short-sighted when it comes to planning for the future, don’t they? I’d recommend that they all go and get themselves checked out at the nearest decent eye clinic, but then that would just clog up the clinics even more than they are already…
As well as doing a considerable amount of highly depressing background reading on this matter, I decided to check out the opinion of friends and people I know who actually work for the NHS and who therefore have inside knowledge of the situation. I think it speaks volumes that I haven’t yet found anyone who thinks that it would be a good idea to vote Conservative in the General Election on 8 June. Several of the people I know who work for the NHS are already actively and urgently encouraging people not to vote Conservative if they care for the NHS. One friend responded to my quick ‘poll’ question of, ‘Do you think it’s a good or a bad idea to vote Conservative with the NHS in mind?’ with the comment:
I think it’s a bad idea to vote Conservative full stop, but yes, a Tory win will be bad for the NHS because they are privatising by stealth and setting us up to fail so that they can sell it off.
She ended this comment with a red, frowny, ANGRY face. This is someone who always seems relaxed and chilled-out, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her raise her voice. Someone else who works for the NHS and responded to my poll told me that she doesn’t know anyone at her workplace who would vote Conservative.
There are numerous additional reason as to why I won’t be voting Conservative on 8 June but – for me – the NHS is the most important one. From everything I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to, it seems very clear that in order to vote for the NHS I need to vote for the party most likely to keep the Tories out, and so that is exactly what I shall be doing.
*I’m sure this was previously stated in the NICE guidelines concerning retinal detachment but, upon checking, I found that they appear to have been amended… hmmm.