Jeremy Laurance: My niece had world-class emergency care – but now what?

Medical Life

Friday 18 September, a warm, dry afternoon and a motorcyclist is cruising down the M3 at 70mph. Her name is Cathy, she is wearing a full-face helmet and expensive black leathers and she happens to be my niece. Then – bam – a car slams into her from behind and she is tumbling and rolling down the tarmac at 65mph. Seconds later she comes to rest against the central reservation and her bike slides in neatly beside her.

The first motorists on the scene ask what they can do. Cathy, fully conscious, takes charge. She has lost her gloves, her hands are covered in blood and her right leg is twisted under her. "Move that leg," she commands, an act which, she learns later, may have saved it from amputation by restoring the circulation.

Next, paramedics are taking scissors to her leathers – they need access to her chest in case she goes into cardiac arrest – and a helicopter is circling overhead. An argument ensues – the police are refusing to close the motorway because it's rush-hour. The emergency doctor lets them have it – and wins. The traffic stops, the helicopter lands and Cathy is scooped up. The doctor briefs the paramedics on how to lift her over the central reservation and slide her into the helicopter. "Don't go near that propeller or it will be very messy," he orders. The rescue is immaculate. Just before they arrive at Basingstoke A&E, she is briefed. "This will be overwhelming, there will be dozens of people waiting to help you. Be prepared." What a wonderful institution is the NHS.

Two weeks later, two major operations down and at least one to go, she is discharged from hospital. The medical care up to this point has been the equal of any in the world. But now her problems begin. She cannot go home because she and her partner happen to have the builders in and the place is uninhabitable. She stays with a friend three miles away – but this is outside her local GP's area. She needs transport to get to an outpatient appointment and, critically, she needs physiotherapy on her damaged hand and badly broken thumb. She cannot get either. As a design and technology teacher, she is more worried about her thumb than her leg. She says: "I can hobble around but if I can't hold a piece of wood, how will I work?" What a bureaucratic, inflexible, frustrating institution is the NHS.

I listened to her story on Saturday as she lay in the front room of her house – she is back home now – her leg strapped into a heavy metal brace, while outside in the fading light chattering pedestrians passed the window. It reminded me of a remark a senior doctor made to me years ago about the NHS. That the care it delivers is mostly first class – but too often there is a catch somewhere along the line. A small problem – a lack of physiotherapy – can negate all the good care, the world-beating surgery, already delivered. And destroy a young woman's dreams.

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

    Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

    £45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'