Day trip to Brighton
I've just got back from a day in Brighton.
Then I got a sudden shooting pain in my calf. I thought it was cramp and would go away. It didn’t.
The pain spread to both legs. Then came pins and needles and the numbness in my hands and feet.
After a few weeks I was finding it so difficult to walk I started falling over in the street.
As you can imagine this was a terrifying experience.
In April I was admitted to hospital – and didn’t come out until September.
I think you’ll agree that five months sampling a wide range of NHS services day in day out is long enough to form a clear judgement about the state of our national health service.
It turned out I had a very rare and difficult to diagnose – but thankfully also very treatable – neurological illness called POEMS syndrome.
A bone marrow tumor was putting antibodies into my blood which were destroying my nervous system.
I’ve had radiotherapy. I may need chemo but hopefully not. At the moment I am slowly recovering.
At my weakest, I spent three months with my legs so frail they had to be lifted in and out of bed. My hands too weak to use a pen properly or even open a soft drink can.
It’s only when you are that helpless that you understand what “care” really means.
When you get to know that the kindness a nurse puts into how they look after you makes the difference between a bearable day or an absolutely terrible one.
And I have to say the wonderful, committed, compassionate people who cared for me kept me going through a very frightening experience.
They aren’t just doing a job. I know that every day they go the extra mile everyday to make life bearable for people who are seriously ill.
I want to thank my GP for spotting there was something seriously wrong. I want to thank all the staff at the Homerton Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology who looked after me: doctors, nurses but also cleaners, porters and catering staff without whom no hospital can function.
I want to thank the haematology and radiotherapy teams at University College Hospital for treating me. And the physios and occupational therapists at the National and in the community team where I live who are helping me learn to walk again.
Believe me, this huge complex system that is the National Health Service delivers care and treatment in a way that is personalised to the patient, not bureaucratic or distant.
Hundreds of people helped care for me, but I always felt that all of them cared for me as a person.
And thank goodness that in our country if you need five months in hospital with incredibly expensive care and treatment, you are assessed on your need, not on your credit card. And you are treated by people who are motivated by public service.
My heart goes out to people who get an illness like mine in America, where there’s no NHS. How much more terrifying must it be not knowing if you can even afford to be ill, let alone afford diagnosis and treatment?
I can’t begin to tell you the boiling anger I felt when I lay in my hospital bed and read that Tory MEP Daniel Hannan was parading round the TV studios of America attacking our NHS and the people who work in it. I pity that man if he cannot see what a wonderful institution the NHS is. And I pity David Cameron if he allows those kind of repugnant views to be promoted by a leading member of his party.
Our NHS isn’t perfect. There are always ways in which the experience for patients could be improved. But fundamentally, the NHS saves lives. That’s why we have higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the USA.
As a patient I have experienced a system that we should all be very proud of.
A service created by Labour, opposed by the Tories, embodying Labour values of solidarity and community.
I know the NHS really is worth fighting for.
So thank you Labour for the NHS.
Thank you Gordon Brown for the massive NHS investment over the past 12 years which would only ever be possible with a Labour Government.
And thank you NHS for giving me my life back.”