Post-natal capitalism can be a depressing experience

'I suggest TV screens in corridors, with the slogan "You can still be jolly while left on a trolley"'
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The Independent Online

Two weeks ago my daughter was born. I'm aware there is no reason why most of you should be in the slightest bit interested and, for a man, this is one of the shocks of the birth experience. As you leave the hospital, it's hard to believe that everyone else is carrying on as normal. You feel like shouting at pedestrians: "Oi! Don't just cross the road as if it's an ordinary day, light a firework or dress up as sailors and do a number from An American in Paris or something."

Two weeks ago my daughter was born. I'm aware there is no reason why most of you should be in the slightest bit interested and, for a man, this is one of the shocks of the birth experience. As you leave the hospital, it's hard to believe that everyone else is carrying on as normal. You feel like shouting at pedestrians: "Oi! Don't just cross the road as if it's an ordinary day, light a firework or dress up as sailors and do a number from An American in Paris or something."

But one aspect of the day was fascinating beyond the spiritual. For some years, hospitals have been ideal outlets for free enterprise, with franchises awarded to companies such as Thorntons chocolates and Interflora.

I'd love to see the leaflet that went round florist companies, encouraging them to set up shop in hospitals. It must have said something like: "And the marvellous thing is it doesn't matter whether someone's just been born or just died, the visitor will always need a bunch of flowers. You can't lose!"

But now the free market has crept into erstwhile unimaginable corners. In the Mayday Hospital in Croydon, south London, each bed offers a screen which, for £3.50 a day (or part thereof) offers a choice of 10 TV channels (payable by credit card); though they're missing out on a vital corner of the market - patients without beds. I suggest some extra screens in corridors, advertised with the slogan: "You can still be jolly while you're left on a trolley."

But the finest display was when a woman entered unannounced into the delivery room, a few hours after the birth. "Ooh, isn't she lovely," she cooed. Then she said it. "Would you like a high quality photo of your baby at a very reasonable rate? After all, many couples regret missing out on the opportunity to capture this very special moment."

Who else was likely to come wandering in? Maybe someone would burst through the doors and say "Congratulations, but as we all know, new babies can mean a loss of sleep, so allow me to offer some of the finest lines of sulphate available in the Croydon area." Or "Now that you've got a child, you'll be wanting to march through council estates screaming at people whose names are similar to those of known paedophiles. So why not purchase our special pack of placard, megaphone and bag of rubble?"

Throughout the NHS, staff are now required to attend talks on RGOs, the splendid acronym for Revenue Generating Opportunities. Give it a while and the gas and air will be on a meter. Maybe the franchise will be won by Murdoch, so the first 10 minutes will be free, then it will change to "pay-per-breath".

And there's ample time for adverts, especially in the moments following birth. Much revenue could be generated if an actress was allowed to stand at the end of the bed, saying: "Look at the state of these sheets! Myconium, blood, afterbirth: that'll never come out. I might as well throw these away." Then an actor could burst in, chiming: "Not so fast! Normal washing powders simply break down when it comes to those awkward sticky placenta stains, but New Persil Automatic Extra Plus has a special anti-umbilical ingredient that gets right behind the most stubborn afterbirth and cleanses with an orange whiteness you never thought possible!"

Come on, NHS, you're missing so many ways of generating revenue. What about allowing sales reps from Benson and Hedges to wander round wards for the terminally ill saying: "You might as well get some of these down you as there's no point in worrying after your health now."

The refrain constantly repeated by New Labour about corporate finance in public services is: "We're using their money to invest for a better service." As if big business is being conned, and these thick multinationals are going: "Duuuur, here's the money you asked for, we don't want anything back in return. We're glad to get rid of it because we've got nowhere to put it. If you hadn't taken it, we were going to ring the council and get them to take it down the dump."

The rest of the day was a humbling experience as neighbours, friends and people we barely know brought flowers and cards and, in one case, a bowl of pasta "because I don't suppose you'll get time to cook today". What were they all doing, these people? Don't they understand there's no way of providing anything outside the free market? If they're not charging for the flowers, they should at least be using them as a loss leader to encourage us to buy their car insurance.

There is a gap, greater than ever, between those at the top of society who believe nothing can exist unless it makes a profit, and the hostility to that ethos from the bulk of the population. That, ultimately is why the New Labour project can stumble into Mandelson-inspired disarray, yet at the same time is likely to win an unenthusiastic second term against the Even Greedier Party. And, if you're interested, she was a seven-pounds-six-ounces healthy baby customer.

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