Stop complaining about hospital 'service'. NHS Nurses aren't waitresses

How dare we subject what little we have left of Britain's utopian vision to the same complaint culture that we would a day-trip that didn’t live up to our expectations?

Related Topics

The Francis report this week highlighted some terrible shortcomings in our hospitals, and in the provision of care for some of society’s weakest members.

It tells of horrifying and haphazard, inhumane healthcare that quite rightly makes relatives weary with ire and grief, and the rest of us feel like cogs in a machine, rather than individuals who need looking after.

It’s only right that these shortcomings should be investigated and exposed in order to be avoided in future. But they shouldn’t be taken as inevitable proof that the NHS isn’t working, or that it is a Bad Thing, or even as in any way emblematic of what the service offers. We would do well to remember that things would be a lot worse if the NHS didn’t exist – something that the pundits and the papers seem to have forgotten as they defend us against state-sanctioned sadists up and down the land, whose shoddy work puts us all at risk of the sort of tragic ends that were met at Stafford Hospital.

But implying that what happened in that hospital is par for the course in a system that has all sorts of detractors – including, bafflingly, a majority who are happy enough to take what they can from it while complaining that it simply isn’t up to scratch – is a kind of sensationalism that is irresponsible, and simply not based in fact. Convincing people to be scared of their doctors, encouraging them to mistrust the profession, is yet another kick in the eye for a wheezing health service that is under huge pressure to function more fluently with ever-decreasing funding.

Allowances must be made and the greater good acknowledged. That’s not to say that what happened within the Mid Staffs Trust wasn’t utterly deplorable. But the NHS provides a service that we all of us need and which, for the most part, works. With the NHS, we are not customers, thank goodness. Your stay in hospital doesn’t come with a star rating – it comes with a promise to do as much for you as is possible, both according to your prognosis and that of the rickety system itself.

I understand the frustration of those people whose relatives died unnecessarily, through neglect and malpractice. I understand that, to them, the scenario smacks of corporate interest and ineptitude. I cannot begin to fathom the pain of losing someone you love in the knowledge that they were not made comfortable in their final days, that their needs went unnoticed, or worse: that they could have survived. It is intolerable, unbearable.

And yet, those cases are the minority. A century ago, when laissez-faire was a way of life rather than a tabloid war cry, they were not. A century ago, people died from things that the NHS can – and regularly does – fix.

When I had to rely on the NHS just over a year ago, I found it confusing and isolating. I broke my leg and the doctor missed it, so I lay in a berth, my leg in four pieces, for two hours. When they reset it, they did it wrong, so they had to do it again, a double agony. During a week-long stay in hospital, nobody told me what was going on, or what I could expect to happen and when. There were flashes of kindness; there were glimpses of the sort of bedside manner you see on telly. But that was it.

I came to the conclusion that frills and niceties – although not, of course, basic human decency – go out of the window in many cases; they have to, because of the sheer scale of need that the NHS faces every single minute. I am a strong young woman in her twenties; I realise I am more resilient than a pensioner. But we must be more realistic in our vision of what the health service can give us: the starched, smiling matron doesn’t exist any more, because various Tory governments decided she was too expensive.

Do I want to complain about it? No, not in the slightest. I can walk, I can run, I am healed. A century ago, I might have died. One cannot expect an operation as vast and as under-funded, as fatally flawed as it is universal, to function in the same way as a boutique hotel, or a restaurant – even as a private hospital. These tragic mistakes in Staffordshire are a fraction of the NHS, not a synecdoche for it; woeful as they are, they are far from indicative.

Round criticism of the NHS in its current state is like jumping up and down on a pianist’s fingers and then saying he isn’t very good. It’s like expecting a prize-fighter to trounce his opponent after a bout of dysentery. We treat the NHS the way a matador does a bull: with every blade we plunge into it – every swinge, every redundancy, every sell-off, every private health insurance contract taken out – we dance round it wondering why it doesn’t continue to act like the sturdy animal it once was.

Some of us think paying our taxes is the same as putting something on our credit cards. It isn’t: tax is a duty, and the NHS is a gift. To decry it as failing when it still demonstrably helps more than harms is to denounce the thousands of human faces behind the logo, who carry on despite the conditions and the pay to help us when we need them. We must start being grateful to the NHS – it won’t be around much longer.

Twitter: @harrywalker1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook  

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot