The NHS goes Dutch

According to my Dutch friends, debates about medical services aren’t unique to Britain. Their system is different from ours, as the Dutch are still resisting the forward-looking, progressive idea of wholesale nationalisation. Obviously they, with their Germanic good sense, know what’s good for them, and it isn’t progress.

Yet the giant smelter otherwise known as the EU breeds uniformity. Hence the odd scandal in Amsterdam that looks as if it could just as easily have happened in Leeds.

What’s making the news now is the plight of a middle-aged man who suffered from prostate cancer. Upon much soul searching and extensive testing, his doctors decided that prostatectomy, the surgical removal of the prostate gland, was the best option.

In the good tradition of responsible medical practice, the patient was warned about the possible side effects. Reluctantly, he agreed to the operation nonetheless, wisely taking medical advice, as we all should.

The surgery was performed, and unfortunately the side effects proved to be as dire as the doctors warned. The patient became both impotent and incontinent, which is regrettably common with this type of invasive procedure. What was slightly out of the ordinary was that the operation had been performed on a wrong patient.

The poor man had the misfortune of being a namesake of the real patient, a coincidence that I’m sure both he and his wife now curse. What they should be cursing is modernity.

How such a mix-up could have occurred is a mystery to me. After all, a patient must be thoroughly investigated  before the decision to operate can be taken. Various scans and other tests are essential in any type of cancer, to establish its grade (degree of severity), nature and spread. So the records of the two patients must have been swapped not once, but several times, until the wrong man went under the knife. Surely proper attention to detail and duty of care must prevent such cock-ups not most of the time, but all the time.

Anyway, I told this story to an oncologist friend here in London and he was aghast. Not just with the criminal mix-up in Holland but also with the state of medicine closer to home. ‘They,’ he hissed, meaning the powers that be in the NHS and the Department of Health, ‘have just decreed that nursing must become a caring profession. What the hell else can it be? If something like this needs to be said, it means the whole ethos of my profession has been destroyed.’

It has indeed. In the past, when British hospitals were run by the Head Doctor and the matron, patients didn’t go into hospital fearing death from causes other than those from which they suffered. Wrong kidneys weren’t removed, wrong legs weren’t amputated and wrong patients weren’t operated on. Deadly hospital-acquired infections weren’t rife. Patients didn’t starve to death, nor died from thirst and general neglect. Nursing – and medicine in general – was indeed a caring profession.

But then progress arrived. In our country, medicine became a socialised institution pursuing roughly the same ends as all socialised institutions. Equality, diversity, multiculturalism, levelling – the usual set. Caring for health is being increasingly marginalised in our healthcare. It’s not about caring any longer – it’s about ‘caring and sharing’.

So what if many NHS doctors and nurses can neither speak nor understand English properly? The NHS is an equal-opportunity employer, and this is all that matters. That’s why our hospitals are running out of really good nurses, but there’s no dearth of Directors of Diversity. Someone has to look after the really important stuff, and it isn’t patients.

Most of this depravity is mandated by European employment directives, ably supported by the European Court of Human Rights. The Dutch are in the same boat, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turned out that the consultant who recommended the operation couldn’t even read the clinical case history in Dutch.

At least the poor man, crippled for life, could take satisfaction in his country’s compliance with the progressive principles we all hold so dear. One doubts, however, that the weighing of pros and cons would in his mind produce a positive balance.     

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