Monday 2 April 2012

A Tale of Two Barnet Hospitals

In recent posts about Charles Dickens' connections with this borough, reference has been made to the old Barnet workhouse, built in the early 1830s, which some think may have been the inspiration for scenes from 'Oliver Twist'. This building was demolished, without warning, and in the face of opposition from local residents by the hospital developers a few years ago, supposedly in order to provide much needed extra parking areas.

Unfortunately yesterday morning I had occasion to see for myself that all these years later, (and despite the continual complaints from patients and visitors about the cost and chronic shortage of parking at Barnet General) the workhouse site is still derelict, still fenced off with temporary (or rather, no: long term interim?)- barricades, so old now that some of the sections are themselves disintegrating, or being held up with lengths of rope staked in the ground.

I suppose the land is more valuable as a potential source of development, rather than a car park, and will, like so many other former public building sites in the borough, be flogged off as soon as they think they can get away with it.

Peering through the fence, now, you find an ugly wasteland of self sown weeds, rough patches of grass, a opportunistic collective of ash trees squatting amongst the remaining bricks and discarded fixtures of the old workhouse. It occurred to me that it all presented a fitting metaphor for so many of the things that are wrong with Broken Barnet, and wrong within a wider context too. The destruction of our social history, and heritage, the use of land for profit, rather than the benefit of the community - and the new reality of lessons forgotten from our social history coming back to haunt us now, nearly two centuries after the workhouse was built.

I spent too long looking at the demolished building, because I didn't really want to leave and enter the hospital, where a close family friend of many years, a dear friend, was dying in the intensive care ward. I didn't want to face up to what I knew was going to be a very difficult experience, and a reminder of my last visits to the hospital, when my own parents died there. I didn't want to face up either to the terrible truth that this death was one which, we learnt yesterday, if things had been done differently, would not have been inevitable.

The stark truth is now, in this borough, if not everywhere, if you are seriously unwell, and do not have private healthcare, your life may well be put at risk by the delays that exist in giving you access to the proper assessment and treatment you may need.

I have had some experience of this new reality, in the last few months, myself. Luckily my case is not so important, but it has been a worrying and educational experience.

Last winter, in need of an urgent scan for a problem, I was told that I would have to wait four weeks for an appointment. Complaints by me and my GP made no difference. My GP eventually sent me to A&E, where I sat for three hours, watching the staff only just coping with a constant influx of patients, and wondering how on earth the service will be able to accommodate more demand when they shut A&E at Chase Farm hospital - (in complete contradiction to the specific pre election promises by David Cameron, incidentally). Eventually I was seen, had it confirmed I had a problem, but was told my GP should not have sent me, and they refused to do a scan. They were 'rationing' the availability of scans.

After kicking up more fuss, I managed to get an appointment at the Royal Free within three weeks, and was then told to wait four months to see a consultant to discuss my problem. Seeing a consultant turned out to be a farcical five minute experience, with the consultant not even bothering to sit down, resulting in an assurance that it would all be better in a few months, a referral to a pain clinic, and a list of unanswered questions. Of course, I could have paid to see the same man, in a local private hospital, in a long appointment, five months ago, and in retrospect, I realise that is what I should have done. But why should I have to?

Any appointment with my local GPs at the moment is inevitably accompanied by apologies from the doctor who will be fighting to contain his or her fury over what is happening both nationally and locally with the NHS. They explain that now, in Barnet, unless you are clearly very seriously ill, or have a trivial complaint that can be addressed locally, you cannot be referred for treatment through the 'fast track' system, whatever the effects of your condition on your life and well being.

Of course the problem with this brilliant policy is that it depends on the ability of your GP to guess how ill you might be, as the Catch 22 system does not allow for any proper assessment of condition within a timeframe that would be appropriate, if you do have something that needs immediate attention, but which is not immediately apparent.

My friend died yesterday afternoon, shortly after I saw her. Her death, ironically, was from a complication similar to the problem they thought I might have. It should have been properly assessed and treated weeks ago, and she would no doubt now be recovering.

I was told to be aware of this complication, in the months I waited to see a consultant - in her case, because she was elderly (although very active and healthy for her age) she was simply kept waiting in line to be seen, and taken into hospital far too late, which turned out to be a fatal error. How many other fatal errors are happening, we must ask? And how much worse will it get, once the coalition government's assault on the NHS is in full swing? And here is a new, and rather chilling factor: once the responsibilty for healthcare is devolved to the local authority?

In my friend's lifetime, she had seen the creation of the Welfare state, and the NHS, and was of the generation that has made the biggest contribution to these institutions through income tax. And at the end of her life, she was betrayed by the politicians who are trashing these great institutions, and forcing healthcare providers to ration the treatment and support that they are supposed to make accessible to all.

The tale of two Barnets is not just about council services, social care, housing and education: there is a growing, yawning gulf opening up in this borough between the standard of health care for those with means, and those without. It is quite fitting, perhaps that the old workhouse lies in ruins bang in front of the shiny new Barnet General: the workhouse system of support for those in need, caught in poverty and ill health, was replaced by the new promises of the Welfare state. For all our lives we have depended on this support, and expected access to healthcare as our right. It is now becoming increasingly difficult to excercise that right. It's a short walk from the workhouse to the hospital, but it's getting further and further away for most of us.

If you live in Barnet, you must become aware of the new reality of the way in which healthcare is working now, and how much worse it is set to become. If you are not afraid of this new reality, you should be. And you should be lobbying your political representatives, and telling them you do not want to see the Welfare State you've paid for all your lives destroyed for the purposes of political ideology and the profitability of private enterprise.

There is an election coming up - they are local London elections, but healthcare is now a local issue. Don't vote Tory because you think Boris Johnson is a good laugh: if you do, the laugh is on you - give the Tories a bloody nose, and let them sit in A&E for eternity, waiting to get it fixed.


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

I am very sorry for your loss.

Do you remember when Labour were in Government? They pumped billions and billions of taxpayers money into the NHS. Did it improve things much? Not really, because instead of spending the money on front line services, they used it to recruit under managers, junior managers, middle managers and senior managers. There are now more managers in the NHS than was needed to run the British Empire which you love so much.

The system is choking under bureaucracy, and that is the fundamental problem which needs to be addressed.

As for your call for people to vote Labour at the Mayoral elections because of the health service, please remind me: which political party decided to close down Chase Farm and transfer services to Barnet?

Mrs Angry said...

Thank you.

Labour inherited the PFI model from the Tories, and the mistake is not taxpayers money pumped into the NHS, but the introduction of profit and private enterprise into the equation.

Where is the evidence for the idea that all the problems are due to the surplus of managers? Easy to say, more interesting if you can produce the facts and demonstrate that this is where the resources have all gone.

Whatever a blue Labour government has done in the past, the reality now is the choice, of the least dangerous course of action. Do you want to see another Tory led London, with Brian Coleman selling off what's left of our emergency services? Would you trust him and his fellow Tories to oppose the onslaught on the NHS from the Lansley proposals? When Barnet Council takes responsibility for healthcare, do you trust the bunch of spivs running the administration to look after our best interests, One Barnet style? If not then you need to be pragmatic and vote accordingly.

MickeyN said...

Sorry to hear of the loss of your friend.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

With respect Mrs Angry, you didn’t talk about Coleman in your post. You specifically mentioned voting for Boris. You also omitted to mention the name of Labour’s candidate - Ken Livingstone. Why are so many Labour supporters afraid to mention his name in public? Is it because they know that to many people - in Barnet in particular - Ken is not simply bad, but completely mad?

I have not been particularly impressed by Boris as Mayor (his failure to remove Coleman from post being one issue) but I think Ken’s extremist views will endanger the lives of citizens. If there is any chance of Ken actually winning I will, without hesitation, alter my intention to abstain.

Mrs Angry said...

Thank you, MickeyN.

Mrs Angry said...

No, you are right, DCMD, I forgot to namecheck himself,for once, but I take it for granted that no one with any sense will vote for him this time.

As for Ken: I will vote for him on the same principle as always, the best on offer - I think the Mayor's post is largely pointless but there is still too much opportunity for dangerous meddling, and I would rather have Labour meddling than any Tory's. do I think he is a perfect candidate? No, no one is. He often says the wrong thing, but I do think he cares passionately about London, and what he does. I think he was right, and brave, to bring in congestion charging. I know he is more in touch with ordinary Londoners than Boris Johnson, and I think Boris Johnson is very bright but a dilettante with no real political ideals, always a dangerous combination

Most successful politicians are completely bonkers, and quite a few unsuccessful ones too.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I don’t wish to appear pedantic, Mrs A, but I must take issue with your “for once” comment. You very rarely mention Ken Livingstone by name in your blogposts. He gets mentioned when you are commenting on other people’s press releases. He gets mentioned in the comments section, but the Google search box at the top of every blogger page could find only four mentions of his name, made directly by you.

This seems to go to the heart of the malaise in the British political system. We no longer say “Vote for Fred, he’s got the best policies”. Instead we say “Vote for Fred. He’s not as bad as the other guy”. I would not expect you to vote for Boris, but very few of the left leaning blogs actually provide any positive reasons to vote for Ken. Similarly, the right leaning blogs have adopted a “not Ken again” approach rather than say specifically why they think their man is better for the job.

I find it utterly depressing that the three main parties are putting up the same three has-beens as candidates. In a Capital City such as London surely we can do better. Londoners deserve better. I accept that tactical voting is a legitimate part of the democratic process, but just for once couldn’t we have some candidates worth voting for, instead of forcing people to vote against?

Do you really believe Ken to be the best on offer, or just the least worst?

Mrs Angry said...

Well, best on offer and least worst are the same, in my view, in regard to politicians. I think it was someone like Gore Vidal who once wrote that anyone who wanted to stand for public office should automatically be barred from doing so, and I agree. Political careers attract the worst sort of meddling fools, and gives them power over our lives.