'I asked if I was going to be dead by the time it was my turn for the operation'

Case study: The heart patient
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The critical test of the Government's plan to save the NHS is whether it will help patients such as Alan Fountain, a TV producer aged 54 who is on a 15-month waiting list for heart surgery.

The critical test of the Government's plan to save the NHS is whether it will help patients such as Alan Fountain, a TV producer aged 54 who is on a 15-month waiting list for heart surgery.

Mr Fountain, from north London and married with two children, has been passed from pillar to post in his search for treatment, ensnared in an unwieldy bureaucratic system that lacks the capacity and the co-ordination to give patients what they need.

He suffered his first attack of angina (chest pain) three years ago and was referred by his GP for an angiogram - an X-ray examination of his heart - which revealed a blockage.

North Middlesex Hospital sent him for treatment last November at St Bartholomew's Hospital. The surgeon decided against "balloon angioplasty", a technique to stretch the blocked artery, and said heart surgery was necessary."I don't think he actually said he would put me on a waiting list for a coronary bypass," Mr Fountain said. "I just assumed that would happen."

He was wrong. In April, six months later, he was invited back to the North Middlesex for a follow-up appointment .

"I was ushered into a room with the consultant and two other doctors and told I was now officially on the waiting list for a bypass. I asked how long it would be and he said about 15 months.

"Then I asked if I was going to be dead by the time it was my turn for the operation. He said he couldn't really talk about it but I would probably be all right."

Mr Fountain is taking daily pills for his condition but they do not stop the attacks of angina. "I get a couple of episodes a week," he said. "I have this puffer thing which always resolves it but I also get other bizarre symptoms which can be very frightening.

"There must be people dying fairly regularly on the waiting list. I am at a certain level of risk but there must be others who are at a higher- level risk.

"One reason I feel so annoyed is that I could go private, but I always felt going out of the NHS would be the fastest way to destroy it. I have also had treatment for bladder cancer and that has been phenomenally good. So my experience of the NHS has been good and bad."

Under the NHS plan, no patient awaiting cardiac or any other kind of surgery should have to wait longer than six months by 2005, and three months by 2008.

In addition, an extra £230m a year will be invested in heart disease services by 2003-04 and the number of cardiologists is planned to grow by 10 per cent a year.

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