Hooray for the Government which this month is rolling out its ambitious project to encourage patients to treat themselves.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson believes that hospitals can drive down costs by putting the Expert Patient Programme in place, which involves patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis and arthritis learning how to treat themselves.
Just to clarify, by “treat themselves”, the Government is talking in medical terms. They’re not proposing offering people lessons on how to buy themselves a bunch of flowers, a box of chocolates or a ready meal from Marks and Spencer.
And “Expert Patients” aren’t people who have a never-ending supply of dressing gowns, slippers, pyjamas and weak orange squash by their bedside, either: they’re well-informed individuals who know a great deal about their condition and how to treat it (there is, of course, a thin line between “well-informed” and “smart arse with a sheaf of print-outs from the internet”. If you’re going to be a know-all, please don’t feel the need to go and see your GP to boast about it. Stay at home and be ill in silence).
According to the Department of Health, in hospitals where the programme has been tested, patient visits have been reduced by almost 20 per cent. What the figures don’t reveal is if the morgues have been almost 20 per cent busier, but that’s New Labour for you.
The Government has finally realised that hospital doctors are far too busy dealing with NHS red tape to see ill people, especially boring ill people who’ve STILL got the same thing wrong with them that they had 20 years ago.
Treating people who don’t get better is just so damnably depressing.
And it’s not just these chronically ill time-wasters who are hampering the NHS – in the olden days, euthanasia was practically mandatory if you’d had a cough for more than three days. Today you even have to keep old people alive – it’s political correctness gone mad.
The health department has high hopes that when the programme is successfully rolled out across the entire country, no one will ever need to go to hospital again, meaning that doctors can spend their days concentrating on more important matters such as playing golf, sunbathing in the Bahamas and window-shopping for Land Rover Discoveries.
The DoH is keen to put an end to the “handout culture” that pervades the NHS and sees patients given “what they want, when they want”. It’s time those pesky asthmatics and diabetics learn that inhalers and insulin don’t grow on trees.
If it’s cost-cutting they’re after, the NHS could do worse than show potentially chronically ill patients (those who visit their GP more than twice a year) back-to-back episodes of Casualty and Holby City, which illustrate just how much of a downer it is to be ill in a state-run hospital.
Casualty used to be an almost-factual representation of what happened in a busy accident and emergency unit – now the staff spend half their time avoiding being trapped down mine shafts/in bomb-struck trains/under collapsing bridges and the other half either sleeping with a consultant or going bananas and being hauled in front of disciplinary committees about their conduct/that patient they killed.
Everyone on the ward has a life story they could flog to Take A Break and every operation involves the insertion of a microscopic camera into an orifice, even if the patient is just having a piece of glass removed from their toe.
On this note, with all those camera crews already in situ, it’s a wonder that Channel 4 hasn’t commissioned a reality TV show based up someone’s rectum or inside their urethra. Perhaps they already have – it couldn’t be worse than Celebrity Big Brother.
Watching Casualty or Holby City is like sitting through an elongated party political broadcast by a private healthcare provider. As the credits roll at the end of every episode, you’re resolving never to go into hospital again unless you’re on a trolley with a tag on your toe heading for the fridges.
When it comes to medicine in the old doctor-patient relationship, I’m kind of banking on the doctor knowing more than I do about what’s wrong with me: after all, one of us went to university to study medicine for seven years and the other one passes out if anyone so much as mentions eye operations.
You have to wonder what else is in the NHS pipeline.
The introduction of DIY surgery kits? Incentives for people to try and die early from diseases which don’t require any medication? Or perhaps grants for the long-term sick to cut out the middle man, schedule a relaxing holiday in Switzerland and come back in a six foot by three foot casket. Preferably before they blow too much cash on prescription morphine.