This story about the death of her father is no less sad because it was written by a "celebrity", television presenter Selena Scott.
I suppose there may be some who say that she has no right to criticise the NHS because she could easily afford to pay for private healthcare. We don't know whether she could or not, but in any case we take the opposite view: she has every right to criticise the NHS because she and her father, like every one of us, have paid for it. If the thing had been properly run by successive governments there'd be no need for anyone to go private because we'd all get from the NHS the care we need and for which we have paid throughout our working lives. If a cowboy builder or a bungling travel agent gave this level of service we'd be seeing them on "Watchdog".
"Dad, having been admitted to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, was diagnosed with a condition that slipped by me. It had a long word and was something to do with his lungs.
I phoned to speak to his lung specialist, Dr Antunes, after picking up vibes that things weren't right from a nurse on duty that day. Quickly, and because my lovely father couldn't bear to tell us himself, the doctor relayed the information over the phone. My father had 18 months to live.
My mother and I went to the James Cook not knowing how to begin to comfort him. He hadn't had a cigarette in 60 years, she said. How could he have a terminal lung complaint? We were shown into a quiet, unused ward, the beds neatly tucked and curtained, where we were to wait for Dad to join us. A nurse asked my mother and I if we would like some tea as the cardiologist wanted to speak to us first.
I thought how nice it was to come and offer words of comfort. The cardiologist was soon with us and then, as my handsome father came into the room and walked towards us, looking so well, I asked if it was really true he had only months left.
The consultant, with no sense of compassion in his delivery, said: 'I don't give him as long as that' - just as my father came within earshot. 'Shh,' I whispered, as Dad sat between my mother and me. 'Would it be possible,' I tried to think of anything to bring a morsel of comfort, 'my father might have an antidepressant, something that will help?'
'Yes,' he said, with callow indifference, 'he'll be given morphine nearer the time.'
I could feel my father beside me flinch. I could think of nothing other than to pat him gently on the back.
The consultant hadn't finished. 'We just need to cross a few "t"s and dot a few "i"s with a scan tomorrow, but it is just a formality.'
After a few more meaningless words, he got up to go and handed me a piece of paper. When I looked, it was a list of items he wanted for his heart unit. I can't remember what they were, the list swam before my face. 'When you have a minute,' he said, 'perhaps you can help?'
It suddenly dawned on me what this man was asking. He wanted to use whatever celebrity I had to raise funds. My father's death sentence had just been pronounced, and I was being invited to try and persuade hospital supporters to contribute medical equipment the NHS should have provided.
I felt like being sick. I couldn't believe such insensitivity. It was like being in an NHS Big Brother, where no feelings were spared and there was no way out. How incredibly proud I was of my father when, protective of us as always, and displaying great dignity, he stood up to thank the doctor and let him go.
I wanted to take Dad home right then, but he wouldn't come. He said if he could help others then he would stay for the tests. This was a university hospital and young students needed to learn. I don't know how I got back home that day.
I spent a sleepless night, worrying, but later there was better news about my father. Dr Antunes had arrived at his bedside, drawing the curtains round and clutching excitedly the results of the scan. There'd been a misdiagnosis. Dad would have to have a bronchoscopy, which would be horrid and invasive, but Dr Antunes said there was a treatment.
He would put him on a massive dose of antibiotics and steroids for a few months to clear up what they now called an 'allergy'. Suddenly we had hope, again, in our hearts. It was an 11th hour reprieve.
After the bronchoscopy - a lung examination during which a probe is put down to take a sample of tissue - my father developed a numbness in his hand. He was assured it was a trapped nerve, but Dr Antunes wanted him readmitted for neurology tests.
He was put in the deeply depressing lung ward of James Cook because there was no room for him in neurology. And then Dr Antunes went on holiday.
Dad wasn't considered a priority and so was left, once again, in a hospital bed for a week before anyone got round to seeing him. This had a devastating effect as he watched in horror every patient in every bed around him die. This was a bad omen. We had to go in and rescue him.
At home, my father courageously struggled with his drastic course of medication, collapsing three weeks before Christmas in the early hours. There'd been heavy snowfall and the roads were impassable, so he was taken by ambulance not to Middlesbrough but to Scarborough, a hospital with a very poor reputation. It has the lowest ratio of doctors to patients of any hospital in the country. Recent cuts imposed by the NHS trust had driven the hospital's consultants and nurses out on to the streets, protesting at threatened job losses, so that now Scarborough was one of the worst performing hospitals in the country.
When I finally saw my father in Casualty, he was conscious, but no one seemed certain about what had gone wrong with him. They thought he'd had a stroke, but his mind was razor-sharp and he was fighting as hard as ever. He wanted to talk about a project dear to his heart which he'd been working on for years. It was because of Dad that only a couple of weeks previously, I'd officially opened a Charles Dickens museum in the market town of Malton. It is a closely-guarded secret that Dickens based Scrooge and his classic A Christmas Carol on some of Malton's characters, describing it as 'the most remarkable place of its size in England and immeasurably the most beautiful'.
At a time when he should have been concentrating on himself, Dad was instead thinking of others, wanting me to contact some local councillors who might help carry the project forward and give renewed life to the town. He made me promise as I left him at midnight not to forget their names.
As I drove back through the snow, it occurred to me that this is where it all began for me. I was born in Scarborough General Hospital, once a place of real pride for the town. Now let me tell you what I encountered there 57 years later.
Its entrance is now gum-splattered and tatty; a plaque on the wall is a reminder of a royal opening from long ago. The canteen on the first floor dispenses coffee and tea from machines through the day, and it was from here one day that a female patient, slightly confused in a dressing gown and clearly incontinent, began soiling herself as she ambled along the corridor and down the stairs. There the sorry trail remained, like so many coffee stains, up to and through Christmas. No orderly came with a bucket and mop to either clean the corridor or the service lift, which was also covered in filth.
The stroke unit where Dad had been sent was, in contrast, clean, bright and well-run, a ward which had been modernised. The nursing care was excellent and the doctors considerate. But soon it became apparent they were puzzled at my father's condition, and so we asked that he be transferred urgently to Dr Antunes at James Cook who was, by now, treating my father as if he were his own.
He'd said if ever we needed him he would see us. Desperately unluckily, however, Dr Antunes was not there when we needed him most. He was on annual leave, so it meant Dad had to remain in Scarborough and be monitored while an attempt was made to re-diagnose his lung complaint.
What was heartbreakingly evident was that the fight to try to save Dad simply wasn't there in the NHS. He was a man in his 80s; they weren't going to make a big effort. That's what happens in hospitals. You must not grow old. It is a crime.
His consultant was a kind and decent man, but overworked. He'd had 40 years experience, but the NHS trust was hinting at his replacement with younger, cheaper doctors. It seemed the spirit of the place had also been given the last rites.
We weren't about to give up. Eventually we got a promise out of James Cook University Hospital that Dad would be transferred in the New Year.
Dr Antunes was going off again, for Christmas. He would pray for my father, he said. He was our last hope. We just had to keep Dad going, although now he had picked up an infection and he had pneumonia.
Belatedly, antibiotics were given. I was not to know it, but Dad had only a short time left to live. The phone call came soon after. My father had fallen into a coma and was not expected to survive the night.
The nurses who'd got to know him and us set a room aside for my mother, brother, sisters and me. When I arrived, a male patient in dressing gown and pyjamas came over and squeezed my arm. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. The hospital chaplain was there that evening, and in the morning, unbelievably, my father regained consciousness and wanted my mother beside him. He was fighting to live for us.
Once again, however, we were to experience the full horror of how the NHS deals with old people. An officious little man in a white tunic with black epaulettes, a 'bed manager', arrived with a mission to save money at Christmas and picked on my father. He glanced at his medical notes, overruled the consultant and threw him out of the unit. A dying man was to be sent to another ward, out of the way.
We tried appealing. 'Our parents have been together 60 years,' we told him, 'they need to be with one another.' He was unmoved.
'In an ideal world,' he said, 'but this is the real world. I want him out of here in half an hour.'
His pager buzzed and he marched off. It was incredible. He appeared utterly impervious to either my father's pain or ours. Back in his room, my father quietly asked us not to leave him.
None of the nurses dared overrule the bed manager. He was a hospital official with no medical qualifications, yet he had the power to make vital decisions affecting the health of patients. It was unbelievable, but on his instructions, Dad was moved in the filthy service lift to an unfamiliar ward where he knew none of the nurses, two days before Christmas.
I kept recalling Nativity plays my long-suffering father had attended when I'd played Mary searching with Joseph because there was no room at the inn. Christmas is a time when family memories are most treasured. Unless you're old and at the mercy of Scarborough's NHS trust. It was left to the compassion of one person, a sister on duty called Sue Bolton, to find us the equivalent of a stable - a room at the end of the ward where we could spend Dad's last hours together.
She hadn't known my father or nursed him, but was moved to tears at our devotion. 'He must have been a remarkable man,' she said, 'that you, his family, who could so easily choose to be with your own families at Christmas, are here instead.' Sue, along with the other nurses on the ward, treated him and us with great kindness in his final hours.
Dad was sleeping when, on Christmas Eve, I went for a long walk to the sea. The path took me through land once proudly gifted to Scarborough Borough and now littered with rubbish. It was still and very calm. Families were out walking their dogs and a tramp with a bag on wheels came by. He asked: 'What day is it?' And I said: 'I haven't a clue.' I hadn't.
On Scarborough beach, the waves crashed in and I remembered all the sandcastles Dad had built for me when we lived in this once-stylish town. I prayed for his gentle end. By the time I got back, things were worse. Everyone, it seemed, had gone home for Christmas, leaving the ward eerily quiet with sedated old men, and my father out of sedation, in agony. He was a tall man, but had been left with only enough medication for a person half his size.
My brother and sisters were weeping. The brutality of what they were about to witness, his dying, I cannot describe here. We demanded a doctor, who arrived, chattering excitedly to a colleague in the corridor and then did what they all had done, discussed my father's death by his bed without an ounce of consideration that he might hear them.
In a hospital that had practically shut down for Christmas, my brother and I had to take the young doctor out of the room and beg for treatment. Finally, realising the extent of his suffering, they increased his medication leaving us to keep vigil, none of us daring to leave, fearful of what might happen if we did.
The NHS didn't kill my father, but I do believe that in his last years it hastened his end. Not just in the appalling Third-World treatment some of it delivered with callous indifference during his final days, but dating back to the origin of his heart trouble when we found far better care from a German doctor in Majorca than in our own country.
Tragically, my experience is replicated with increasing frequency all over this country. So much of what was once held dear in Britain - decency, good manners, a correct way of doing things - today appears to be not just dismissed but almost ridiculed. And if you are above a certain age, you are inevitably considered almost invisible and a nuisance.
I have written to Scarborough & North-East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust documenting my complaints.
I am still awaiting a reply."
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