Why does it matter if your free NHS treatment was at a private hospital?

From Facebook:

“Reflecting on what was an unusual weekend.

On Saturday morning I got a knock on the door from a stranger to say that my partner had come off his bike at the end of our road. The panic must have been visible on my face. “He’s ok”, she said. “But he’s got a nasty gash on the side of his face. My husband’s with him. He’s ok. But he’ll need to go to hospital.”

Her husband, it turns out, is a firefighter. So fortunately knew what to do when he saw the head injury.

By the time I got to him, Kev was sitting on a chair outside their house, with kitchen paper held over the left side of his face. There was a lot of blood. He was conscious, but in shock. They told me it was probably best not to look at his wound.

The paramedics arrived within minutes and took us to Kings, where they have a specialist facial trauma unit.

Although he was wearing a helmet his face smashed into the edge of a sharp curb. So, as well as the deep lacerations around his eye socket, he’d broken his cheekbone in three places.

From the moment we stepped into the ambulance around 1030am to when that we left the hospital around 9pm, we were in the hands of the most amazing individuals.

In total, at least 20 different people were involved in caring for him: 2 paramedics, an A&E receptionist, 3 different A&E nurses, 1 X-ray receptionist, 1 radiologist, 1 A&E doctor, 3 facial trauma specialists, 1 facial surgeon, 2 porters, 1 neuro radiology receptionist, 1 neuro radiologist, 1 ophthalmic consultant, 1 head injury specialist, and an A&E discharge nurse. And these were just the people we met. There were probably countless others contributing behind the scenes.

We were so well looked after. Every single one of those people were calm, caring, cheerful, patient, professional, focussed and committed. They explained what was happening at every stage. They cared about doing the best for us.

Many of these medical professionals were working 12-hour shifts. Several of them worked beyond the end of their shift to care for us, including one facial trauma doctor who, although his cover had arrived, stayed to help her with the complex stitching that Kev needed, and chatted cheerfully to us as he worked.

Many of these NHS professionals were from other countries – Australia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Philippines and Poland, to name a few – working in what is the busiest A&E department in the whole of the EU.

Their expertise was incredible. We were seen by three different specialist teams – facial trauma, neurology and ophthalmology – all working together, seamlessly, under the same roof.

This is the NHS is all its magnificent glory.

At no point did we worry about the cost of this care. At no point did anyone ask us for an insurance number. At no point were we offered optional treatments with different price tags. Everything they did was the very best available treatment for that patient with that specific problem, no matter their background, or circumstances, or means. From my partner, to the elderly woman who‘d had a fall, to the young lad with a sports injury, and the chirpy flat capped guy with a suspected broken hip, and the loveable and slightly drunk homeless woman with a fractured wrist. They were all treated equally. They were all given the very best medical care available.

I am a huge supporter of the NHS. I marched to save Lewisham Hospital, where I gave birth. I was one of the people who swelled with pride and wept watching nurses bouncing on beds at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. And on Saturday I witnessed first-hand how brilliant and precious it really is.

But there are those in government who are keen to see market forces play a bigger role in our NHS, or who are at best extremely relaxed about it. They’ve already introduced a lot more private providers into the system.

You might think, “what does it matter if my routine surgery, my cataract operation or my knee replacement, gets done by a private health care company? So long as I’m not paying for it.” It matters because as the private sector cherry-picks the straight forward and more lucrative areas of care, it gets more and more difficult for NHS hospitals to function well.

There is something about the way hospitals are funded that means that, when money is diverted to private providers for routine treatments or elective surgery, it becomes more challenging for hospitals to provide emergency care and the more complex higher risk medical treatments.

So, this is to say that the concerns around private sector involvement in the NHS are multifaceted.

It’s not just a question of “well, as long as medical treatment is still free, it doesn’t matter who is providing it”. Gradual and almost invisible changes are already undermining and eroding the system. And if we aren’t careful, they’ll have such a seismic impact that we risk losing the NHS as we know it.

There are other people that have a much greater insight into all this than I do. And if you’re interested in finding out more more, a good starting point is to watch this video of Allyson Pollock’s TED talk on the privatisation of the NHS, or to visit the website Public Matters.

The NHS is at risk as never before. I knew that already, but this week I was reminded just how very precious it is, and how fortunate we are to have it.

Our family’s experience this weekend was stressful, but our worries were only for Kev’s health, well-being and medical prognosis. I dread to think how it would have been if we’d been worrying about whether we’d be able to access the specialist care he needed, or whether that care was available close to home. Or if we had been fretting about whether we’d be able to afford the treatment on offer. Or wondering if our insurance would cover it.

This weekend the NHS was there for my family and is going to be hugely important to us over the coming weeks as Kev continues his treatment on the road to recovery.

If the NHS is important to you, then fight for it. I will be.”