Letters: Criticism of NHS staff

People are the root cause of the NHS woes
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The Independent Online

Criticism of "our wonderful doctors and nurses" has long been regarded as almost sacrilege. It is not buildings, equipment or the numbers of doctors and nurses and other staff that is the main difficulty.

In all these respects, the NHS is similar to health services in other countries which operate far better than ours, so we are left with people as the root cause. It will be difficult to cure this, because it is a culture the same as the general culture of this country, and without changing that, we will not change the NHS.

We have become much less concerned about other people and much less likely to do anything to help one another unless we can see an immediate cash benefit for ourselves. This lack of empathy and concern shows up everywhere and particularly in the NHS, as described in Ian Birrell's article (21 August).

On holiday in Burgundy, I had alarming irregular heartbeats in the middle of the night. My French friend rang his GP who got out of bed at five in the morning to see me, for which I was extremely grateful. He charged me the equivalent of £20. An English GP wouldn't even get out of bed for you and if he did, what would he charge?

But if we try to change the organisation of the NHS to the French model without securing a change in the ethos first it will be a disaster. The money men will move in and we shall finish up with a system costing us far more and providing a better service for the rich and a worse service for many of us.

Dudley Dean

Maresfield, East Sussex

The principles on which the NHS is founded, of access to health care for all without financial charge at the time of need, are sacrosanct, to be very proud of and vigorously protected. The organisation to achieve these principles is another matter and we have not found the most satisfactory organisation model.

For as long as I can remember, after 38 years as an orthopaedic surgeon, but now retired, there have been reorganisations, re-, reorganisations and now radical reforms, none of which have provided the right solution, and a few of which have created more problems of their own.

The NHS has many problems, political interference and central control, a one-size-fits-all mentality, target-obsessed political dictats, de-professionalisation of senior health care personnel, the European Working Time Directive and its implication for medical training and patient care, the financial implications of PFI-funded hospital building and so on.

If the debate on health care is muddied by confusing the sacrosanct principles of the NHS with the inadequacies of the organisation to achieve these principles, it will remain sterile.

Philip V Seal FRCS


No doubt John Haigh (letters, 18 August) has had a bad experience with the NHS. But how many people, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, have had good experiences? I have had: treatment for angina; a stent. No problem. Treatment for arthritis; medication that controls it. No problem. Two cataract operations. No problem. Two digital hearing aids, regular checks, free replacement batteries. No problem. Treatment for asthma; free medication that controls it. No problem.

The NHS and its staff do a good job and deserve praise, not complaint. I am old enough to remember my parents having to pay for a visit to or from a doctor, and for medication, when money was in very short supply in the Thirties. The present system may not be perfect but it's better than that.

Colin Appleby


I accept that scrapping the NHS is not a majority opinion in the Tory Party. Tory members, and supporters enjoy the benefits and are grateful to the NHS as much as supporters and members of other parties.

The Tory leader, David Cameron, was ruthless in the way he disciplined his MPs, who often had many years of service to the party, during the expenses scandal. He should now be just as ruthless in dealing with the right-wing dogmatists within his party .

Peter J Brown

Middlesbrough, Cleveland

"The big problem with the NHS isn't funding," says Christina Patterson (Opinion, 15 August). "It is the people in it." This cannot go unchallenged, with thousands of doctors and nurses going the extra miles the patients sometimes need in the course of their illnesses.

No, we don't get extra training in sneering, sulking and being rude. In some, the altruism and enthusiasm with which they started is undimmed by experience. In most, a certain cynicism creeps in when they are subjected to the tidal wave of humanity with their fears and problems, not all of them genuine.

I prescribe voluntary work at your local NHS A&E department for first-hand experience of the unwashed, unschooled public and the abuse the NHS receives daily from its clients. No, the NHS staff are not trained to be rude; they are trained by the people they serve.

Dr Patrick Strube

Marlow, Buckinghamshire

There seems to be a presumption that the NHS is free, yet nearly every citizen over 65 has paid a big percentage of their income into funding it. We have paid a national health stamp, graduated pension, private pension, union dues and other deductions, and as wages increased so did contributions; no one complained because it was worth every penny.

The NHS has now become free for millions of people who have never paid a penny, and have no intention of paying. These are the economic scroungers Blair invited into the country and gave them access to a free service we paid for.

S T Vaughan


Congratulations are due to the bigs drug firms and medical care companies. They have lobbied on a huge scale to persuade US voters that allowing access to treatment on the basis of need rather than wealth would be creeping communism.

One can understand why they are fighting so hard to retain their obscenely profitable business. What is perhaps harder to understand is how a nation can be so gullible as to buy their quack medicines.

Pete Parkins


Rupert Cornwell's perceptive article "America needs to cool down" (15 August) reminded me of my time in the US in 1950, as an Oxford undergraduate.

Harry Truman, a Democratic president from a humble background, made tentative noises about the health care of people like himself. The result was a blast of invective against "socialised medicine", with adverts in newspapers, pointing to the disasters of the NHS, introduced here only a few years before. Moderate voices were either ignored or rubbished.

W R Haines

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Lockerbie debate rumbles on

Thank goodness for the Scots. Who can imagine Blair, Brown or Straw showing Mr MacAskill's courage and integrity in withstanding pressure from America not to release Megrahi, the details of whose supposed crime and trial the average American almost certainly knows little of. What they do care for in the US is their idea of retributive justice. They had a man behind bars for murder, and that was good enough for them.

But didn't Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith, overturn the flawed convictions of more than 100 prisoners wrongly sentenced to death for supposed capital offences on America's Death Rows? That means that over half as many Americans as the 189 Megrahi is supposed to have killed had been wrongly sentenced to death by fellow Americans and were reprieved only by the work of one concerned British lawyer.

While feeling great sympathy for the relatives of the American dead at Lockerbie in the impotence of their situation, I find it difficult to accept their outrage at the loss of their token victim.

Dr Jim Swire diverted his grief at the loss of his own daughter into a thorough, forensic investigation of the Lockerbie affair which has lasted many years. He has concluded that Megrahi's conviction was unsound. Dr Swire knows more about the case than most, and I trust his opinion. He wants the real perpetrator, and he is pretty sure it is not Megrahi.

Bob Knowles

London SW15

Just when you thought our justice system couldn't get any barmier, Scottish politico Kenny MacAskill goes and releases a mass murderer of 270 innocent lives after just eight years of detention. That's less than two weeks per dead body.

Well done, Ken, for making, what is probably the worst decision of your life, in addition to alienating us from our closest allies, the Americans (who had 189 of their people killed), while strengthening the message that the UK is soft on terrorism. I hope you feel proud.

Peter Charles


The whingers in the White House should pause for a moment to reflect on the very strong possibility that if the US had not shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988, killing all 290 on board, an action that was rewarded with medals rather than punishment, there may not have have been a Lockerbie tragedy six months later.

Roger Chapman

Keighley, West Yorkshire

Arresting thought

The European arrest warrant is now in operation. It takes away all the legal rights that were granted to us in Magna Carta in 1215. You can now be arrested and taken abroad, without even knowing the charge or what evidence there is against you.

Steve Halden

Swindon, Wiltshire

In the money

Please stop peddling this myth that limitations on bonuses would cause some sort of bankers' brain drain. There might be a small percentage of Gordon Gekkos who are the brains behind credit default swaps et al, but there are also a lot of barrow boys who are basically jumped-up market traders, for whom Del Boy's theme of "no income tax, no VAT, no money back, no guarantee" seems peculiarly apposite.

Andrew Whyte

Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Chew this over

Dr Mick Blowfield (letters, 15 August) points out advantages of importing some foods. But the point of the government's emphasis on the desirability of growing more food at home rests primarily on concerns for food security in a changeable world. With climate change and for various other reasons we may not be able to rely permanently on imports for our present 40 per cent of consumption. As to the extra cost of growing out-of-season foods in our own climate, why not simply "go seasonal"?

Ian Leslie

Ludlow, Shropshire

Talent for taxing

Hamish McRae is right: performance-related remuneration attracts talent and provides inducement to exercise it (Opinion, 19 August). But in denying the equitableness of more progressive taxation he seems to ignore the self-evident and widely accepted notion of the diminishing marginal value of money. Surely, a pound is worth infinitely more to a beggar than to a banker. Remuneration in kind can also attract talent, but it should be quantified in monetary terms and declared as income for tax purposes. Our existing gradation of income tax seems too shallow.

John Romer

London W5

Crisp answer

I was struck by Jeremy Stubbs' practice of going from the ATM back into the bank branch to get nice fresh notes (letters, 19 August). At my bank, they are good at queue management and keep it nice and long; doing what Jeremy does would take a good 10 minutes of queueing.

Dennis Leachman

Reading, Berkshire

Point taken

Howard Jacobson ("In the face of overwhelming ignorance, it is the pedant's duty to keep battling on", 15 August) overstates the importance of pedantry. The unlettered populace will always be oblivious to the exactitudinal debates that rage in literary circles. And that is the place for them. The pedant is an unremitting point-scorer and has no place in civilised conversation.

Martin Gorman