First, I’m deeply moved by all the good wishes I’ve received from you. I thank you all collectively, albeit belatedly: the French hospital where I got some on-the-job training in pulmonary embolism had no Internet access.
I’m lucky to be alive, for the time being, said the doctor, to which I replied that some of my readers may not share that assessment. That wasn’t just a weak attempt at a bon mot, but a reflection on experience.
Some seven years ago I wrote something in The Mail that displeased Peter Tatchel, that great champion of homosexuality. He immediately ran my photo, captioned with all the relevant contact details, in his paper PinkNews.
That produced hundreds of abusive e-mails, most describing me metonymically as female genitalia, and some expressing a heartfelt wish that I croak soon, preferably as a result of ingesting faeces (their language was more colloquial). One irate reader, doubtless a diagnostician of no mean attainment, wrote that he’d gladly kill me, but thankfully there was no need. Judging by my photograph, I was going to peg it soon anyway.
He almost got his wish, if seven years too late. I ended up on a different floor in the same hospital I had graced with my presence just a few days earlier.
For once I found myself the youngest member of a group: every other patient there topped me by at least 10 years. Most of them were demented and, with a few exceptions, bed-ridden.
The few exceptions floated around, making tiny steps like Japanese geishas, but not resembling those ladies in any other way. They looked more like characters from a late Fellini film with casting by Goya during his Black period.
Much to my wife’s amazement, one chap mistook her for a nurse and asked for a yoghurt. “You’re lucky he didn’t ask for an enema,” I told her. The same patient, his eyes popping out of their orbits, would occasionally wander into my room and say ‘Bonjour’ in a way that made me fear he’d then introduce himself as ‘the Auxerre slasher’.
Not the best 10 days in my life, all in all. But hey, at least I wasn’t in an NHS hospital with a syringe driver pumping diamorphine (purified heroin) into my vein.
Actually, my vast medical experience (on the receiving end) includes a month spent on just such a driver. But that was at a private hospital, where the medical staff had no murderous designs on my person.
That apparently wasn’t the case at Gosport Hospital, Hampshire, where close to 650 patients were killed by diamorphine overdose during the 90s.
Now, any druggie will tell you that heroin is a dangerous drug. As Dr Shipman could have testified, it kills if administered in overdose. That’s why it’s banned in many countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and it’s only ever used in Britain as part of palliative care, when the patient is in agonising pain.
Even then care must be exercised not to OD the recipient accidentally, due to a faulty driver, for example, or a wrongly calculated dose. No such care was taken at Gosport.
Moreover, only about 45 per cent of the victims were in any pain at all. Apparently, in many cases the doctors prescribed, and the nursing staff administered, diamorphine to some patients not because they needed it, but because they were ‘difficult’.
The patients got the message: many tried not to make excessive demands for fear that the medics would kill them. They were old people, like those I met at Auxerre, but many of them were lucid and perfectly able to enjoy what was left of their lives.
They certainly hadn’t consented to euthanasia, which in common parlance means killing and, when done the Gosport way, murder. (Actually, I see no valid moral difference between any type of euthanasia and murder, but my state of health is making me more mellow.)
The report on the final solution practised at Gosport didn’t mention any other NHS hospitals, but the residual cynic in me refuses to believe it’s an isolated case – while the realist is certain it isn’t.
Why would it be? State-run Leviathans like the NHS are congenitally incapable of realising that every human life, no matter how miserable and predictably short, has an intrinsic value.
The big, omnipotent state is self-serving and self-perpetuating. Individuals are seen in that light, and they become expendable should they interfere with the innate imperative of the big state.
Such is the underlying impetus, and obviously it’s manifested to various degrees in different types of state. But manifested it invariably is, and the NHS is a prime example.
Any state tries to brainwash its subjects in the noble motives animating its actions. But frankly, this side of the USSR, I’ve never seen this effort succeed as spectacularly as with the NHS.
The British believe in overwhelming numbers that it’s the NHS that puts the Great into Britain. They also believe that other countries are turning green with envy watching the NHS in action.
If so, they manage to contain the urge to follow suit admirably: Britain is the only European country with fully nationalised medical care. All others use some combination of public and private financing, and the results – certainly in France – are much better.
For that’s what the NHS is: a method of financing medical care. That’s all. It doesn’t occupy a high moral plateau, which socialism never does. It’s not a surrogate deity to be worshiped instead of God. And it’s emphatically not free, which is a common misconception.
‘Free’ means something one doesn’t have to pay for. Yet somebody has to pay for all those MRI scans and mastectomies. Such things are expensive; and the more inefficiently provided, the dearer they get.
If patients don’t pay for them directly, the payment comes from the government, which makes most of its money from taxes. ‘Free’ thus means that the transfer of money from patient to hospital is mediated by the state acting as a general contractor with megalomania.
But governments are less efficient than private enterprise. Thus we must assume that, say, mastectomies are more expensive when one pays for them through the government, whether one needs them or not, than they would be if one paid for them direct, and only when one needed them.
(In this regard, I wish Europeans spared me their tales about poor Americans dying in the streets because they can’t afford hospitals. If that were the case, life expectancy in the US would be much lower than in Europe – but it isn’t.
I visited enough friends in American municipal hospitals, where poor people are treated, to know that they are infinitely superior to the NHS. The US system isn’t perfect; no human institution is. And it’s being made more and more imperfect by the litigiousness endemic in America. But people don’t die by the roadside because their bank balance is too low.)
Yet when we pay for state medicine we don’t just pay for mastectomies and scans. An ever-growing proportion of our money pays for the ever-growing state bureaucracy required to administer ‘free’ medical care, something for which they would pay less if medical care were not ‘free’.
Moreover, since steady growth of nationalised medicine is tantamount to the state extorting increasingly larger sums from the people, ‘free’ medical care places an ever-growing proportion of the nation’s finances and labour force under state control, thus increasing the power of the state over the individual.
The NHS is already the biggest employer in the world, and its fans seem to hope it’ll eventually become the only one in Britain. They’re prepared to throw more billions down that bottomless pit even if it means neglecting defence of the realm.
In other words, ‘free’, translated from the NHS, means “serving the state, not the citizen, and therefore being more expensive than it otherwise would be, not to mention less efficient”.
I’m not qualified to pass judgement on the desirability of using diamorphine. On my own example, I know it’s used effectively even in the country’s best private hospitals, but that’s only one man’s experience.
Yet any drug can kill if used inappropriately, either by accident or with malice aforethought. If used correctly, aspirin can make your headache go away. If used wrongly, it can make you bleed to death.
And of course diamorphine is a killer in the wrong hands – such as the hands of the NHS.