Does your child need the NHS?

It’s been quiet around these parts lately, quieter than at any other time in my blogging life. I don’t mind admitting, I’m knackered. Ah right, you say – baby not sleeping? Well, he is and he isn’t (more on that later) but actually most of the time it’s me keeping myself awake.

I’ve had a cough since Sproggett was two weeks old. He’s had it too, in varying degrees, and it’s been heartening but heart-breaking to see the tiny man cough so violently that his whole head turns red, and leaves him startled, followed by a brave determined assertion of ‘I’m alright Mum! I am I am!’. He was diagnosed with reflux, we administered Gaviscon, things got a bit better or we got more accustomed to it, whooping cough was suspected but thankfully discounted. We headed into winter and once breastfeeding finished, expected the odd cold which indeed was the case. We try not to fret. Ok, I fret but I try not to talk about it too much.

Me, I’ve been sounding like punctured bagpipes for seven months. There have been numerous trips to the GP, for both of us, to a soundtrack of wheezing like a fifty-a-day girl. Depending on who we saw, varying amounts of support. Prescribed inhalers didn’t help much although the steroid tablets made a difference for a few days. The GP we like best referred me to the chest clinic at the local hospital. Sproggett, she couldn’t actually find anything wrong with: His chest is clear. There’s no real explanation but as long as he seems well enough in himself… well, let’s just see what happens. That sort of thing, said in a kindly way, with an exhortation to return if there’s no improvement or a marked downturn.

At the chest clinic, after my allergy testing testing (negative) and a lung function test (all fine) the next step was a histamine challenge test, the next vacancy six weeks hence. Yesterday a kindly technician guided me through the peak flow measurement and the trial run, involving inhaling a saline solution before introducing a low dose of histamine. He explained that he would be looking for my breathing capability to drop 20% over five increasing doses of histamine, if there was a problem. I aced that test, folks – my lung function dropped 40% on the first dose.

He said it was the fastest i.e. best i.e. worst result he’d seen in twenty years. Woo, go me and my “acutely sensitive airways”! Next week it’s back to the consultant to see what he says and hopefully get some sort of treatment, more testing if necessary. I also want to discuss Sprogett being referred for treatment if it’s something similar causing him to cough so much. The reason he isn’t sleeping through the night is that he is waking himself up coughing. On a rare night recently where he didn’t cough he slept 7:30 – 5:00. I’ll take that…

So how much have I paid for all of this? At least six GP visits since July, two days of testing at the hospital, prescriptions? Nothing. Zero. I am still eligible for a maternity exemption certificate for prescriptions, and thanks to the NHS nobody pays for GP visits, or costly tests. Yes some people might moan that their GP is overstretched, and around here we have some very dodgy practices when it comes to prescribing contraception (another story altogether) but we have always been able to see someone in a timely manner and for free.

I don’t believe that this will be the case for much longer. It hasn’t really made the news, but this government (following rapidly on some developments started by previous governments) seems to be intent on dismantling the NHS as we know it. The NHA party is contesting the by-election in Eastleigh because it wants to win back seats from Conservative and Lib Dems and try to change the course we seem to be set on: The Health and Social Care Bill which is currently before parliament is going to remove universal access to free healthcare. It’s that simple.

As I understand it (and in a very small nutshell), rather than being responsible for providing a national health service, the bill allows the government to only fund it and then services would be put out to tender in a free market, open to the lowest bidder. That will ultimately mean huge conglomerates overseeing services in major contracts (anyone remember G4 at the Olympics?)

If you compare it to train privatisation, I presume that if you become ill with a major mainline recognised complaint (asthma, my likely diagnosis is probably about as popular as the London-Brighton line: lots of passengers, well understood route, lots of familiarity with the destination) then you’ll probably be dealt with reasonably quickly. No big surprises. However, I had to keep pressing to be tested again and again. I wasn’t to be fobbed off but without a second revealing set of tests at the chest clinic I could have been left to chunder up a lung on a daily basis. What if it isn’t asthma? What if it’s something less well understood, less popular? Would obtaining treatment be like trying to get to Southend on a Wednesday in January? I might well find the service is reduced. Or non existent.

That may sound dramatic but this government seems intent to give over our national health service to private companies. Who work on margins and profit.

Mark Haddon, author of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’, wrote about it this week in the Guardian.
My worry, I suppose, is that we will end up looking at a system like in the US where if you don’t have (private) health insurance you descend into a sort of underclass with little or no safety net.

I have lived and worked in the UK for all of my adult life and I’ve come to accept free healthcare as a fact of life. I’ve had private healthcare when self employed, although it’s lapsed now, but I had been blithely expecting that Sproggett would be cared for, if needed by the NHS. Hell, without it, he literally wouldn’t be here. We’ve had one overnight in Children’s A&E in seven months, hopefully nothing more, but when we needed the care it was there.

What if you couldn’t see a doctor? Or if your child’s condition was viewed as ‘not profitable enough’ to be researched or treated? What if you had to choose between paying for one child to get treatment, or for siblings to eat or stay warm?

Here’s what the British Medical Journal says about how the government is dismantling the NHS, and the Lancet’s article on the ending of universal healthcare

If you don’t have your health, you have nothing so they say. Maybe the situation regarding the NHS isn’t as bleak as this picture (which is being painted by all of the medical colleges except one, the British Medical Association, and the nursing colleges) but what if it is? Maybe it’s time we started asking some more questions – of our GPs re their funding, of the media about why there hasn’t been more mainstream coverage, of the government of whether they personally have financial interests in the companies that will be bidding on the outsourced services and contracts.

Otherwise we may see the NHS as we know it disappear within our lifetimes, and have our children ask us in fifteen years’ time why we didn’t do anything to stop it.

Edited to add: if this situation concerns you, you might want to sign this petition