Special Report on Private Health: Walking back to happiness: Paul Gosling meets an osteo-arthritis victim on the road to recovery

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ELIZABETH HORTON, 54, was crippled by osteo-arthritis in her ankles. Now she hopes that the operation she underwent at the Fitzroy Nuffield Hospital in London last month was the last and the removal of her plaster this week will mark the end of her commuting between her home in Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, and her London consultant.

'I have practically lived at the hospital for the last five years,' she says. 'It has been a home from home. They have had to do arthrodesis on both ankles.'

When the ankles are damaged by osteo-arthritis it is not possible to put in new joints, as it is with hips. Instead a complex operation is required, where the bones are rearranged, and solidified.

Mrs Horton has had 15 operations in the last five years, causing her enormous pain and difficulty. Earlier operations in 1987, conducted privately at another hospital, were the worst of all.

'They messed up three operations,' she says. 'I don't think the consultant knew what he was doing. Frankly, I think he was experimenting. It should never have happened, and I should never have let him do it. I should have shopped around, and found a surgeon who had done the operation before.

Mrs Horton speaks highly of her new consultant. 'We had to redo, redo and redo it, until we got it right. Few surgeons would have taken that on.'

She also praises the Fitzroy. 'They are wonderful - they give wonderful care. That is why I have been back. They have marvellous staff and nurses. The food has its ups and downs - it is on a good patch at the moment. The rooms could not be better.

'I have been at other hospitals, where the rooms have not been modernised, and where you are isolated. At the Nuffield, someone is always coming and going, and you have the right-sized rooms, with plenty of light. There is a TV in the room, and it meets all my requirements.

'I feel a lot of admiration for what the hospital does, and I have been to quite a few, I can tell you. My consultant is also on the NHS at Charing Cross Hospital. But the operation had to be done straight away. I I was not prepared to wait. It had to be as I dictated it. That is especially the case when one can't walk One has no choice but to have it done straight away. I am not prepared to wait for the NHS.'

Mrs Horton is sympathetic to the NHS, but believes that the management of it must be improved to allow patients to regain confidence. Last year, while she was already in Fitzroy Nuffield, she was diagnosed as having breast cancer. 'The surgeon had one look at the test results and said it is malignant, about five weeks old and that we will have it straight out.' The operation took place within five days of the test.

'If I had been at home and reliant on the NHS it could very easily have been a month before the operation took place, and the tumour could have burst, entered the lymph glands, and I could have been one of the 16,000 women who die each year from breast cancer.'

Mrs Horton recognises there is a down side to private health care. 'The cost has been horrendous. Each time it costs pounds 900 to pounds 1,500 for the surgeon. Then there is the anaesthetist and the other operating costs, and then pounds 335 a night at the Fitzroy Nuffield, and then there are the telephone bills and the occasional bottle of wine. I had three weeks' stay last time, I shudder to think of the total cost.'

Most of the costs have been claimed against Mrs Horton's insurance policy with the Western Provident Association. However, like many policies, it has a maximum pay-out, and she is no longer having her bills met in full. She hopes, however, she has at last come to the end of her treatment.

(Photograph omitted)