Dem Bones: Ogden on the Health Service


There’s a great many things I love about living in Georgia, but the medical service is something that has consistently impressed me over the years.

I’ve heard foreigners complain about it, but my own experience has always been positive. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve patronized better clinics or simply due to the abysmal state of Britain’s National Health Service.

Now, the NHS is a fine idea; it’s free, for a start. Having seen the oncology department in one hospital and the cardiology specialists in another tending to stricken relatives of mine, I’m bound to say that the specialists are excellent. The difficulty is actually getting that far.

I recall sitting in a waiting room with a broken wrist (having fallen off a wall blind drunk and roaring for women, they tell me) in a hospital and seeing one man with a nail straight through his hand (a builder, by the looks of him, though he could have been a Christian role player for all I know) and a little girl who’d had the skin scraped off her knee and was vocalizing her discomfort to the room. Her mother, torn between concern for her child and embarrassment as the little angel bawled ‘It ----in’ hurts, Mam! Tell ‘em to do summat abaht it!’, approached the reception and asked when her daughter could be seen. ‘Please be patient, the doctor isn’t free yet,’ was the bored reply as the little girl began to act out her favorite scene from Saving Private Ryan.

Now, no doubt you’re thinking that this being a hospital, there were medical staff charging in every direction, nurses fixing IV lines while doctors sternly consulted charts and receptionists calmly answered the phones, professionally oblivious to the chaos around them. No such thing. Despite the immense size of the building, the hospital was empty (there weren’t even doctors there, it seemed); the screaming of the girl echoed around the place and came back in an eerie whisper. The wounded builder grew paler, the sound clearly making him think that the hand of Death was on him, and his mate had to stop him from falling.

Eventually, they were seen – by a nurse. She saw me too, and told me that my wrist was broken (which I already knew, from Google and the extreme pain) and that I would have to wait a week for an X-ray (which I also already knew, my past experiences of the NHS having set something of a precedent).

I could go on, but if I list all my grievances with the NHS I’ll run over my word limit ten times over. Suffice it to say that my late grandfather complained for three months of feeling ill, and his doctor told him it was just the cold and his age. On a particularly bad night, he called an emergency doctor, a different man (a foreigner, actually) who took the trouble to examine him, and found an inoperable six-inch tumor in his stomach. He died three months later. My other grandfather is afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, and visited the specialist last year in June. She told him he had the wrong date. Not so, says he, checking the diary; he had the June date right, but he had come the wrong year. They were expecting him in 2016 (this when he had made the appointment last January). I even recall an NHS doctor telling my mother ‘Britain has a Third World healthcare system’. Proof if proof were needed, I’d say.

I’ve visited a number of Georgian hospitals, twice with damaged legs (exercise-related), once with a damaged wrist (personal misadventure) and a few times with friends. I was shocked to find that, for a start, there were doctors in the hospital. I learned that they cared about two things – finding what’s wrong with you and making it better. The plaster on the walls was peeling, the wheelchairs had rust on them and the equipment was old…but it worked, and so did the people behind it.

I’ve heard various explanations for Britain’s failing healthcare system. Someone blamed it on my region; apparently the NHS in the West Midlands is notorious. Well, perhaps, but it seems odd that not just one hospital but every facility in the entire area has low standards, and friends of mine from other parts of the country have recorded similar bad experiences. Another person said I should go to a private hospital in England instead. My mother took me to one once when I was a boy, but I was rather put off; asides from the expensive fish tank there was little difference with the NHS, and the doctor kept calling me ‘the kiddy’. The hell with that.

I’m due to be married to a Georgian doctor next month (and a damned good one, too. With her looks and brain, she could go for a place on Dr. House’s diagnostic team this minute), but I’m hardly biased; my opinions were formed long before we met. However, during her first foray into England I took the time to show her our NHS, and she simply could not believe it: the sign in the local doctor’s surgery reading ‘Don’t call an ambulance – have a relative or friend drive you instead’ really took the biscuit.

Tim Ogden

11 February 2016 19:35