April 27th 2016
One of the worst things for doctors must be that, after seven years of study and then another decade of continuing professional exams, patients come in telling them they’re wrong after spending 20 minutes on Google. So imagine how doctors must feel about Jeremy Hunt, who hasn’t even had the decency to go on the internet.
Consider how desperate these doctors are: so desperate that they want to talk to Jeremy Hunt. Surely even Hunt’s wife would rather spend a sleepless 72 hours gazing into a cracked open ribcage than talk to him. Hunt won’t speak to the doctors, even though doctors are the people who know how hospitals work. Hunt’s only other job was founding Hotcourses magazine: his areas of expertise are how to bulletpoint a list and make dog grooming look like a viable career change.
Of course, the strikers are saying this is about safety, not pay, as expecting to be paid a decent wage for a difficult and highly skilled job is now considered selfish. Surely expecting someone to work for free while people all around them are dying of cancer is only appropriate for the early stages of The X Factor. Sadly, Tories don’t understand why someone would stay in a job for decency and love when their mother was never around long enough to find out what language the nanny spoke.
The fact that Hunt co-wrote a book about how to dismantle the NHS makes him feel like a broad stroke in a heavy-handed satire. Even the name Jeremy Hunt is so redolent of upper-class brutality that it feels like he belongs in one of those Martin Amis books where working-class people are called things like Dave Rubbish and Billy Darts (No shade, Martin – I’m just a joke writer: I envy real writers, their metaphors and similes taking off into the imagination sky like big birds or something). Indeed, Jeremy Hunt is so overtly ridiculous that he might be best thought of as a sort of rodeo clown, put there simply there to distract the enraged public.
I sympathise a little with Hunt – he was born into military aristocracy, a cousin of the Queen, went to Charterhouse, then Oxford, then into PR: trying to get him to understand the life of an overworked student nurse is like trying to get an Amazonian tree frog to understand the plot of Blade Runner. Hunt doesn’t understand the need to pay doctors – he’s part of a ruling class that doesn’t understand that the desire to cut someone open and rearrange their internal organs can come from a desire to help others, and not just because of insanity caused by hereditary syphilis.
The government believes that death rates are going up because doctors are lazy, rather than because we’ve started making disabled people work on building sites. Indeed, death rates in the NHS are going up, albeit largely among doctors. From the steel mines where child slaves gather surgical steel, all the way up to senior doctors working 36 hours on no sleep, the most healthy people in the NHS are actually the patients. This is before we get to plans for bursaries to be withdrawn from student nurses, so that we’re now essentially asking them to pay to work. Student nurses are essential; not only are they a vital part of staffing hospitals, they’re usually the only people there able to smile at a dying patient without screaming: “TAKE ME WITH YOU!”
The real reason more people die at weekends is that British people have to be really sick to stay in hospital at the weekend, as hospitals tend not to have a bar. We have a fairly low proportion of people who are doctors, don’t plan to invest in training any more, and are too racist to import them. So we’re shuffling around the doctors we do have to the weekend, when not a lot of people are admitted, from the week, when it’s busy. This is part of a conscious strategy to run the service down to a point where privatisation can be sold to the public as a way of improving things.
Naturally, things won’t actually be improved; they’ll be sold to something like Virgin Health. Virgin can’t get the toilets to work on a train from Glasgow to London, so it’s time we encouraged it to branch out into something less challenging like transplant surgery. With the rate the NHS is being privatised, it won’t be long before consultations will be done via Skype with a doctor in Bangalore. Thank God we’re raising a generation who are so comfortable getting naked online. “I’m afraid it looks like you’ve had a stroke. No, my mistake – you’re just buffering.”
When I was little, I was in hospital for a few days. The boy in the next bed was an officious little guy who took me on a tour of the ward. He’d sort of appointed himself as an auxiliary nurse and would help out around the place, tidying up the toys in the playroom, and giving all the nurses a very formal “Good Morning”, which always made me laugh. I got jelly and ice-cream one evening (I’d had my tonsils out) and they brought him some, too. Afterwards, he threw his spoon triumphantly into his plate and laughed till there were tears in his eyes. Then he tidied up and took our plates back to the trolley. What he meant by all this (we’d sit up at night talking and waiting for trains to go by in the distance) is that this was the first place he’d known any real kindness and he wished to return it. For most of us it will be the last place we know kindness. How sad that we have allowed it to fall into the hands of dreadful people who know no compassion at all, not even for themselves.