If you turn up at one of the few remaining Accident and Emergency departments of NHS hospitals these days, the first thing you see is a large notice telling you to go away.
"Do you really need to come here? Have you tried telephoning your doctor, e-mailing his surgery or asking advice from your pharmacist? " it says in big letters. In other words, get lost, you are a nuisance.
If you have been attacked with a meat cleaver in the street in Woolwich, the right thing to do is to telephone NHS Direct and ask them for instructions. If you really want to see a doctor face to face, ring up and make an appointment with your GP, some time in the middle of next week. In fact, don't even ask to see the doctor, just ask to chat to the practice nurse, or read some magazines in the waiting-room. They will probably give you the health advice you need without bothering anyone.
It's incredible how some people still have the idea that the NHS exists for sick and injured people. They ring up ambulances and ask to be taken to hospital. Sometimes after about six hours, they are. I was in a chemist shop a few days ago and there was an elderly woman at the pharmacy counter who was actually in tears, as she had suffered so many frustrations and setbacks. Just getting a prescription had turned into an ordeal, and she was worn out. After sitting down and chatting with a cojuple of other people in the queue, she told us she had been a nurse in one of the local hospitals for many years, before retiring.
Another octogenarian I know had just found a treatment that made her life bearable, in the form of some pain-killing patches, and then her GP refused to prescribe them again, without explaining why. Was it the cost?
According to the Independent newspaper, the government is making a £1 billion raid on NHS funds to pay for "social care" for the old. By social care they mean what used to be called nursing. If you're not seriously ill it's now called "social care" and 2 hours after an operation for cancer you are labelled a "bed-blocker". Those troublesome geriatrics expect help when they are too old, weak or confused to look after themselves. What strikes me is the attitude that this use of public funds is a "raid", like a bank raid or a heist. If you gave the same money to an EU bail-out, nobody would call it a raid. The NHS has got better things to do these days than look after our parents and grandparents.