The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (August 14th 2022)

When the personal becomes political: the NHS crisis and other tales.

Dear Queenagers,

Hope you are all very well – particularly in the light of the subject of today’s newsletter!

I had one of those moments this morning when a selection of things that had been bugging me all coalesced in my mind, so that is what I am going to write about today…

It began with a call from a great old friend who had had a terrible accident. She’d been thrown from her horse and broken her arm in sixteen places. I’ll spare you the gory details but she ended up air-lifted to a major university teaching hospital, fainting from the pain… only to begin an ordeal which sounded if anything, worse.

They ascertained pretty quickly that although her arm was a disaster zone it wasn’t actually going to have to be amputated, there was no nerve damage (fortunately). But because there was no immediate risk to her life, she was left on a trolley with no pain relief for five hours. She said she was surrounded by people so old and frail they looked like ‘wisps’. The nurses kept grumbling about them, saying the whole of A&E and indeed the hospital was full of elderly patients who had nowhere else to go. Care homes for old people are so short of staff that many have closed. There is literally nowhere for many of these vulnerable elders to go except for hospital, so that is where they end up, next to my injured friend, on a gynaecological ward.

“It was like a kind of hell,” she said. “They finally gave me a morphine drip for my arm but the battery had run out so it didn’t work and beeped constantly. But no matter how many times I tried to summon a nurse over that night, nobody came. I felt scared for myself but actually worse for all the poor old people around me. Two had soiled themselves and were weeping because there was no one to help. One fell out of bed. One was eventually removed in a body bag – God knows how long they had been dead for.”

She was told that they couldn’t say when she would be operated on – the operating theatres were full of life and death cases. She’d be done when there was a slot. Meanwhile, her arm atrophied and she was in atrocious pain. They said it could be ten days… although they hoped not.

I was reeling from her story. When she told me the hospital, they had taken her to my heart initially soared. It has an excellent reputation; if somewhere like that is in this much chaos, when it is not even winter, we are all in big trouble!

My next call was from my dear cousin Jane, 67 (she’s just retired) down in Devon who had tripped while walking her beloved red setter on the beach in Braunton and broken her tibia, fibula and an ankle bone. Again she was taken to A&E which was chaos – and sent home with painkillers. “We’ll try and operate tomorrow,” they said. But tomorrow came and went, and the next day and the next. A whole nine days went by until she got her emergency op (six pins in her ankle). This was particularly poignant as for the last thirty years Jane has been a mainstay of the NHS, being the main doctor’s receptionist in her home town. She loves the NHS – it really let her down.

And then I made the mistake of turning on the News and catching Liz Truss (yup she is a Queenager at 47, but no, I am NOT a fan). Why? Because the first thing she wants to do is nix the national insurance tax rise which is ringfenced for the NHS and social care. Given the two stories above I reckon you will understand why that is a terrible idea! The health service is on its knees because the social care system which looks after the elderly is broken – so old people can’t be discharged and hospitals are clogged up with people who shouldn’t be there, and the care of the ill is suffering as a result. It’s not just anecdotage either – an excellent article by Michael Simmons in the Spectator outlined six key statistics which show that the stories I’ve heard are totally representative of the broader crisis. A staggering 29,000 people waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E last week  (like my friend with the arm, and I heard of an even longer wait for a friend with Covid and a very low heart rate). To put that in context in 2021 the number of people waiting that long to be seen was negligible – and it’s not even winter and flu season!

When it comes to ambulances the waiting times are scary – if you have a heart attack or a stroke, it is currently taking an hour (59 minutes) for an ambulance to get to you (and good luck with the 12-hour wait when you get to hospital). The other horror – and we all know someone who has been hit by this – is the backlog of people waiting for treatment – 6.7million (nearly 10 per cent of the UK population) up by 120k last month alone. And when it comes to cancer only 70 per cent of those who are being seen are getting either an onward referral for further treatment or told they are ok within a month (way off the target). Again my friend who was waiting for an operation to remove her brain cancer had it delayed, again, last month. She is 35 years old, it is her only chance of staying alive.

Sorry to offer you up such a litany of woe but I just can’t believe the disconnect between these kinds of stories and the Tory leadership race. While Liz Truss breezily says she doesn’t want to tax the energy companies (despite them making billions and millions of Brits being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter)  and then says she wants to scrap the NI tax hike (meaning the social care fiasco goes on) Rishi Sunak has had a £400k swimming pool complex installed in his North Allerton mansion!

I’d love to hear from all of you what your experience of the NHS is at the moment… Noon is about to embark on a whole series of articles about health inequalities faced by women, particularly Queenagers – so do tell me your own stories either in the comments below or email me directly

Have a great weekend!


P.s. If you want to take your mind off things, this month we are sending you TWO books, the brilliant The Herd by Emily Edwards and Great Circle (my book of the year) by Maggie Shipstead. The Herd is for the August Noon Book Club and Great Circle will be our book for September. It’s free to attend the session and if you want a free book sent to you every month then become a paid subscriber.

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