On Monday 23 February at 9pm, I found myself sitting in the lounge when suddenly I heard a very strange whirring sound. I couldn't figure out quite what it was or where indeed it was coming from. To begin with, it was a gently annoying hum; the sort of noise you might hear being made by an irritating insect. Then gradually it got faster and faster and became louder and louder. It seemed to be the television that was to blame. I quickly changed channels and it stopped. I turned back and it started again, only this time more pronounced than before. Finally, I figured out the reason for the disturbance. It was none other than Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the National Health Service, spinning in his grave. Yes, I was watching Channel 4's NHS: £2 Billion a Week & Counting.
Forget the lavatorial (OK, I admit it, I've seen Carry on Doctor too many times than might
be good for me), this documentary had more than a touch of the gladiatorial about it.
Members of the great British public were being asked to use their thumbs (not in a Nero kind of way, but via text messages - this being the 21st century, after all) to interactively voice their opinions on the fates of those being paraded in front of the viewers in the name of entertainment. These messages were flashed up intermittently and in the main, they made for pretty depressing and ill-informed reading.
The patients up for debate were Kim, Marc and Barry, each of them with their own particular set of problems.
To be honest, Kim should have been on Embarrassing Bodies seeing Dr Pixie McKenna. If mammary (Oops! there I go again) serves me right, she always gets the oversized boobs. And Kim's were massive. 32 KK to precise, which was large enough for her bras to look like the medieval staff slings soldiers of the time used to launch giant boulders in. Any Normans with those sized rocks heading towards them wouldn't have stood a chance.
Kim had already been turned down twice for a reduction, an operation costing the state £4,000. We were reliably informed that this money would have paid for 1,000 children's asthma inhalers, 100 GP visits or six weeks' worth of kidney dialysis.
Upon appeal she was turned down yet again. The panel insisting she try to lose more weight in the hope that this would result in her chest also coming down in size. As a last resort she went to the press. Not the Sun or Star though where her breasts would probably have stretched from Page 3 all the way to Page 23. Eventually, a private clinic came to her rescue and performed the procedure at a cut price rate.
Marc was a different story altogether, his plight being completely of his own making. An alcoholic writer, presuming wanting to show that he at least had something in common with Dylan Thomas, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, even if it wasn't their talent, he'd spent the last 30 years drinking five pints of beer a day. Now aged 54 his liver was on the verge of packing up altogether. Without a transplant, he'd have been dead within two years.
After careful consideration, it was decided by the medical professionals that he would be allowed to go onto the waiting list for a transplant. Although previously warned that he could never drink again, his somewhat half-hearted recognition of the fact didn't exactly instil me with confidence that this would turn out to be the case. Fingers crossed I'm proved to be wrong. If not the £73,000 for the price of his operation would have been far better spent on a nurse's salary for two years, nine hip replacements or 40 hospital beds for a week.
Barry was perhaps the saddest and most desperate of all three. He'd been diagnosed with dementia and by his own admission it wasn't exactly what he'd had planned for his retirement. Maybe golf, cruises and more time spent with the grandchildren, but definitely not memory loss, incontinence and an inability to perform the simplest of tasks, including shaving for himself.
All his poor beleaguered wife, Ros, was asking for was an Admiral dementia nurse to help out occasionally and take away some of the burden from her. The cost? A paltry £375 a year. They were turned down for this.
Apparently to pay for these carers on a nationwide basis would cost £185 million a year. Money that could instead be used to treat 56,000 children with head injuries, perform 19,000 heart by pass operations and keep 13 paediatric centres running for a year.
800,000 people in this country currently suffer from this terrible regenerative disease. A figure that is destined to double in the next 10-15 years. As one doctor pointed out it is maybe time we started looking at end of life insurance policies that we pay into to fund our futures if the worst happens.
If there's one issue this programme successfully raised more than any other, it's that the NHS is in deep trouble and the sticking plaster approach to its survival isn't anywhere near enough of a cure.
It's clear that it can no longer remain to be free at the point of use for everyone and should now start to be means tested.
Those who can afford to pay for their treatment, particularly people such as me, should do so entirely or be made to contribute a significant proportion towards the total cost. I say this as someone who has personally benefited and continues to benefit from what still remains the greatest medical provider in the world.
Without its care, expertise and free medication, I probably wouldn't be alive today. In turn, I wouldn't have written this blog and you wouldn't have read it, if read it you actually have.
Next week's episode will make for interesting viewing and will undoubtably raise the shackles of many watching. I for one will be tuning in. I may just have to turn the volume up a bit to drown out the sound of the former Health Minister's deathly spinning.