What a waste! - Credit: Dave Griffin

COLUMN: Deaf as a doorknob? Should’ve gone to Specsavers!

Dave Griffin

When calling a garage to ask advice about your car’s poor performance, it’s unlikely that the mechanic will ask you to e-mail him with a picture of the engine.

He’ll suggest you bring the vehicle in for an inspection. Similarly, when our failing boilers or noisy washing machines are playing up, we don’t expect plumbers and repair men to suggest we send them photos of our Potterton Combi or Hotpoint automatic. But that’s how our health service operates now.

A charming lady complained to me in Ilfracombe’s Lantern café that her GP had requested her to “take a photograph” of some bruising that had appeared on her leg, and to forward it to him from her mobile phone. From an adjoining table, a woman who 'couldn’t help overhearing' dived in to describe the crippling pain she suffers whilst waiting for her twice postponed ‘Covid delayed’ hip operation. She’s joined a giant backlog unlikely to be cleared for years. Our NHS is certainly under pressure, and it has led to face-to-face appointments granted almost as a privilege.

We do understand that priorities have changed given the pandemic’s impact on public health, but why has it resulted in such difficulty to obtain everyday routine treatment? Ear wax removal is no longer available at clinics, and so patients end up at Specsavers, of all people, who do it competently for £55. Compare the NHS to the motor industry. Over 30m cars present annually for a compulsory 40-minute MOT. Most need time consuming repairs, yet there isn’t a six-month waiting list for shock absorber replacements.

Fewer people than ever can register with an NHS dentist, and Ilfracombe lacks emergency facilities for visitors. Our understaffed Tyrrell Hospital is being deliberately run down, and its Minor Injuries Unit’s opening times restricted. How have we got into this position? Clearly, the NHS has been chronically underfunded. Government assurances of its commitment to preserve what was once the world’s finest national healthcare scheme are hollow. Britain’s NHS is now ranked as 16th in a list of countries offering better patient care than is available in the UK. Top of the league is South Korea, followed by Japan. Our welfare state credentials fail to match those of Scandinavian countries, or France, or even the Czech Republic.

Government is contemplating a US-style private insurance model funded by compulsory contributions, and that is certainly the direction of travel. How long before we’re asked to pay £30 for a GP consultation? And that’s cheap! France operates a refund scheme of up to 70pct of treatment costs, whilst South Koreans receive free care in a private hospital of their choice, paid for by monthly premiums. Ilfracombe councillor Nettie Pearson’s ‘Farewell to the NHS’ (Gazette May 11th) forecasts the inevitable. We are witnessing the final days of an integrated welfare system, free at the point of use. Once they’ve settled their university tuition debts, I’d advise today’s youngsters to start saving now for their new hips and knees in 2065.

Crutch control needs improving - Credit: Dave Griffin
Crutch control needs improving - Credit: Dave Griffin

I wasn’t surprised to discover a huge pile of wheelchairs, crutches, zimmer frames and various other NHS supplied equipment languishing at Ilfracombe’s recycling centre. Every depot in the UK contains a similar collection of mobility aids that patients are discouraged to

return, yet all of it is in serviceable condition. This mountain of apparatus represents an appalling waste of money and resources. Pre-Covid, during a break from my chemotherapy, I wandered the corridors of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital for a nose around and came across a room crammed floor to ceiling with aluminium walking aids and toilet seats designed for the infirm. “It’s all going to be disposed of,” a maintenance man told me. “It’s cheaper to replace than to sterilise.” A few months later, had a pigeon walked in to the hospital’s foyer, it would have been blasted with sanitiser before it could flap its way out.

Perhaps the NHS should set up a reuse or deposit programme. Meanwhile, maybe a developing country would appreciate a donation of its redundant gear.