Last night my partner was very ill. This normally fit and well 30-something doubled up in agony (a score of 9 he said) and I felt pretty useless. I don’t drive so I couldn’t make the trip up to hospital, and to be frank it would have been a near impossibility for him to stand anyway; doubled up on the floor in agony, barely able to speak.
What made most sense in this situation, what was probably glaringly obvious in fact, was that I should call an ambulance. And yet, I more than hesitated. I delayed, ignored, waited until the moans became more frequent – then I finally caved and dialled those three numbers which are quite literally a lifeline.
Why did I wait? Why did I watch someone I love suffer? Maybe there is an innate reluctance to ask for help. We are British after all, (stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on – we’ve all seen the endless posters, mugs, bumper stickers, you name it). In a way that wartime mentality never really left our psyches. However, I’m not the retiring type. I speak as I find, ask for what I need. My misgivings about phoning were a hundred percent related to the current and now seemingly perpetual crisis in our NHS. It doesn’t sit well with me that external factors clouded my decision making and delayed me making the right choice.
I’ve called ambulances before. Several years working in adult social care has prompted plenty of necessary calls to 999 operators, their calm and measured voices lending some stability in the midst of tonic-clonic seizures, falls or worse. But this was in the context of a job, and crucially, was several years ago. The gravitas of calling on the emergency services was always noted, but the guilt was never felt.
I’ve heard horror stories. Tales from hospital doctors and paramedics of elderly couples where one has fallen and been administered to on the floor by their spouse for days as they “didn’t want to bother the doctors”. After several days of inactivity muscle wastage sets in causing serious and irreparable damage to an otherwise healthy person.
There are others and I’m sure these examples are not isolated incidents. I’d like to bet that plenty of people wait on the bedroom floor or worse and I wonder how many people have been caused how much extra suffering through a reluctance to do what is needed.
Healthcare is a human right, but now it feels like a privilege. Right now, it feels like ringing for an ambulance is something one should apologise for (and I did). Right now, calling an ambulance may mean waiting for several hours; better to beg steal or borrow a lift in never mind what circumstances and hope for the best.
Now one trust is considering picking up two patients at once to save time – they are stretched, and not just on a Saturday night kind of way, not just in the depths of winter – but all year round. Now unqualified volunteers may well drive ambulances, (giving real credence to Jeremy Hunt’s infamous “ambulance drivers” faux pas). Police officers are also potentially being asked to step up to the plate to transport law abiding emergency patients. The immense (and yes, life-threatening pressures) on the emergency call out service would not have been believed just a few years ago.
Now a trip to A&E often means a four-hour period of staring at posters on the wall telling of how much an appointment costs, or how your pharmacist could help with all manner of ailments in a desperate effort to dissuade and divert potential cases. Staring at the posters asking for migrants to pay, asking if you really need that appointment makes me very sad. Have we come to this? Have we reached a position where genuine patients feel a burden, where staff who’ve worked the job of two people for the last 12 hours are forced to apologise for someone having to wait too long?
Is this situation manufactured? Has the government purposefully created a state of affairs whereby law-abiding decent people who pay their taxes feel guilty for calling upon emergency care in very rare circumstances? You bet they have. We are fed the idea that we cannot afford a fully functioning healthcare system, there’s too many elderly people, too many immigrants, drunks and druggies clogging up the system. Seemingly all sections of society are blamed, all except the ones at the very top. The real reasons for this situation are all too often swept aside, an inconvenient truth.
In reality there’s only one place any of us should look to lay blame – squarely at the government’s door. Jeremy Hunt, arguably the most detested government minister in recent times (1.3m staff work in the NHS), may have gone, but his replacement is still a private-enterprise-loving, gimmick-spinning Tory who thinks that shadowing staff on a couple of nightshifts somehow makes him the doctor’s friend. Somehow makes up for the last eight years of Conservative imposed misery inflicted by a party with a more than dubious agenda.
So yes, I’m sorry I called that ambulance, but I’m sorry because when the paramedics arrived they looked so tired (whilst incidentally still giving the best of care). I’m sorry because I know there’s others who needed it too, and I’m sorry because I know how hard each and every person works and how the system is creaking under the weight.
But there’s one thing I’m not sorry for. I’m not sorry for writing this, I’m not sorry for political blaming, for seeking to expose the fact that the people elected to govern us are inherently opposed to a public healthcare system. I’m not sorry for highlighting how those in power care not one jot for 89-year-old Doris left to waste away on the floor. I’m not sorry for standing on my soapbox, for calling out how they are willing to sacrifice as many as it takes in their misguided pursuit of austerity, profit and privatisation.
So next time you need an ambulance, call one. But however long the wait, thank the staff, and follow it up with an angry letter to your MP. Seek to expose this governments dangerous agenda every chance you get, tell them in no uncertain terms how you feel, and whatever else you do, don’t apologise.