I’ve conducted a mini-tour of UK hospitals. Not on purpose. Twenty-four hours and two mountain ranges. I went from visiting Wanda at the Hammersmith Hospital to attending my own appointment two-hundred-and-fifty miles away at the Withybush Hospital in rural Pembrokeshire.
When I heard my grandma might get a pacemaker on Monday, my skin prickled. I couldn’t help it. A new pacemaker by Monday? It’s almost impossible to imagine that kind of healthcare in Wales. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’ve just yet to meet anyone who it’s happened to. Instead Jack’s step mum, Vronnie had her heart operation cancelled at least three times in Swansea (once when she was already in hospital, lined-up and nil-by-mouth). By the time she finally made it to the operating table weeks later, the surgeon remarked it was amazing, considering the poor condition of her heart, that she was alive at all. How do you say thanks to that one? Vronnie had had a congenital condition which deteriorated over time. She was fixed in the end and is now the proud owner of a ticking valve, but it was a sticky situation for a while.
Same with Jack’s dad. In the last year of his life, he’d had to privately fund both pacemaker and ablation for himself. His heart had also taken a turn for the worse. My grandma on the other hand, was being offered to jump the incredibly-long pacemaker queue based on one, serious medical turn. And full disclosure – she’s not even a British National. She has a European medical card which entitles her to UK emergency care. Don’t worry – my grandma doesn’t want the pacemaker. She still thinks those gypsies cursed her. No, the thing that got me this weekend was the difference in care. After all, quality of care is supposed to be evenly spread in this country – we pay the same amount of tax regardless of where we live.
I walked through my rural Pembrokeshire hospital on Monday morning inspired to take these questions onto a wider platform. Is it by postcode lottery that people can access a particular service? In Ceredigion for example, we have a pretty excellent A&E department but just one consultant dermatologist in the whole county. Is it only the cities I wonder, by their metropolitan nature, who have attracted the best healthcare? Are there some places where you just can’t afford to get sick – period? The cottage hospital we attended in Gosport, Portsmouth when Lulu had a fall in Quest was the same cosy setting where one of its doctors was later accused of overprescribing opioids and killing over 450 patients. Didn’t see that one coming in the cottage-style outpatients building. Luckily for us, the doctor wasn’t anywhere to be seen that day.
Update from the Hammersmith – my grandma didn’t have her pacemaker in the end. The cardiology unit adjusted her medication instead and want to see her back in a few weeks time to wear a long-term ECG monitor. Thank goodness. That sounds more like the NHS. My own appointment at Withybush lasted seven minutes and three of them weren’t even a medical conversation. Afterwards, it was a two-hour drive home to Borth. That’ll keep a person healthy.