Welcome to my first Talkhealth blog post. I deal with a range of health issues on a daily basis during my working life and regularly run through a variety of them on my business blog and my regular podcast but for my first piece here I wanted to go back in time to discuss my first experiences in the healthcare sector and briefly, some of my healthcare experiences since then.
My first ‘proper’ job, aged 18, was working in the Coding Department of the Leeds General Infirmary. This was in my gap year prior to going to university and rather unglamorously involved sitting in a Victorian office building in the old main campus building of the LGI (made famous recently as the hospital setting for the ITV One program, ‘Munro’ starring James Nesbitt) totting up every day the exact number of hospital bed occupants in each of the 30 or so wards within the main LGI site and then also going through recent patient medical files classifying procedures using the International Classification of Disease (ICD) manuals. Although my role was purely office based (regular visits to the local mental hospital across town to pick up archived patient files notwithstanding) it gave me some crucial and long lasting insights into the hectic and often heart breaking world of running a major city centre hospital and even in the late 1980’s the horrendous problems of waiting lists, bed blocking and funding limitations.
Since then my main personal experiences of the NHS have been as a patient (or relative of one) and of course from a business perspective, I have often needed to contrast the relative merits of NHS treatment versus the private sector particularly with regards to speed of access (waiting lists), choice of healthcare provider and vitally, the underlying quality of care.
In December 2012, I spent a long Saturday night from 5.30pm until 1.00am in the morning accompanying an elderly relative into the busy Casualty Department of the LGI and as you might expect this was both frustrating and gratifying on a number of different levels. Frustrating because of the long wait, multiple visits from poorly briefed clinicians unable to communicate with one another in any depth or spare the time to read patient notes properly before talking to the patient and their family. But also gratifying in equal measures because of course where else on Earth could you go at short notice for major health issues to be resolved and receive (eventually) such good, effective treatment for free delivered by health professionals whose dedication and skill is unquestionable, regardless of the limitations placed upon them by the system under which they operate.
I could contrast the above story with an experience around 18 months earlier whilst accompanying someone in my immediate family as they had diagnostic tests and treatment privately at the Spire private hospital in Leeds. Beautiful, comfort cooled waiting areas, free coffee and classical music whilst waiting (never for more than 15 minutes) and immediate and unfettered access to the senior consultant surgeon who organized both the diagnostic and treatment phases with everything all done and dusted within less than ten days following our initial appointment with the GP.
Of course trying to compare and contrast the National Health Service with private medical treatment is a fools errand. The two modalities exist to service different sets of circumstances and are in fact are so interdependent and interconnected in terms of both personnel (and now with the NHS regularly using private hospitals for elective procedures such as cataract and hip/knee surgery) and in terms of treatment locations as well.
In summary, having worked both within the NHS and then the private medical sector it is easy to be seduced, even some might say corrupted by the inherent problems and issues that can be perceived to exist within the National Health Service and the undoubted benefits of “going private”. It is important though to remember that in comparison to some other countries health service provision (the United States of America for example) the NHS is still a shining example of what can be achieved if society pulls together and makes the decision to look after everyone. Plus of course, whatever the perceived and real failings of the NHS without it there could never be a thriving and growing private medical sector.
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