Not having been near an NHS or any other doctor for some twenty years, for my own health that is, my recent experience as a consumer is necessarily out of date. There has been the odd visit with my son over the years, the most notable being when he rolled over as a small child and hit his head on the corner of a stone hearth opening up a nasty 2 inch cut to his head which need, as I judged, stitching or as the A&E doctor judged, gluing. The said doctor plainly thought we were child-beaters and started to ask some thoroughly poisonous questions. He stopped doing this quite quickly, however: whether it was my tone of voice that put him off his stride or my balling my fist as I spoke, I shall never know.

Last year, we had to go through the business of my wife having breast cancer. The details matter not but I did get a ringside seat as to how the NHS deals with the life-threatening as opposed to the lifestyle ill-health. In fact we had nothing to complain about at all and one was thoroughly impressed. Having come from a medical home where the old-fashioned ‘talk down at them’ approach was the order of the day, I was pleased by the direct yet compassionate approach of the consultant surgeon. The nurses on the ward were quite excellent and the specialist nurses too. This I account a good experience. Yet one has heard so many less than wonderful stories of the NHS. Perhaps it is because it really pulls the finger out for the life-threatening but with lesser ailments sometimes they do not get it right.

Anyway, I have damaged a knee and went to the GP. Having not been near a GP in the best part of twenty years (and why I last went I cannot recall), this was a novel experience. I had to fill in a multiple choice questionnaire, which I was told goes to the NHS. Having as yet had no service at all, the questions about service were meaningless so I just ticked ‘jolly good’ all round. To one question, about my ethnicity, I added the rider that I resented being asked this question. It is none of their business and makes no difference to my answers and no difference to the treatment given, so why ask it?

In the event I have to see the orthopædic surgeon. To get an appointment I have to telephone the local hospital and give not just a PIN number but a code number as well. This enables them to look at my computerised record, I suppose, but that does not happen when you ring up, but some time next week, when the orthopædic team will look at what the GP has said and decide what to do. Then I have to ring again next Friday to be told what the determination is. At that point I will get an appointment. Sometime.

I used to work as a temporary acting unpaid secretary for my father sometimes. On occasion I had to ring the hospital to make an appointment for a patient with the surgeon. My father would tell me that Mrs. Smith needed to see Mr. Jones make an appointment and a brief resume of the problem would be given. I would telephone there and then and an appointment would be given there and then, usually within seven days. Total time: five minutes from diagnosis to getting an appointment.

Which is the better system?

Answers on the back of a beer mat, real ale only, please.

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