Health and Safety
I have just started reading Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle, which no doubt will be reviewed on damesnet in the near future. The book is set at the beginning of the 1950s, not long after the introduction of the National Health Service. The two main protagonists are 18 year old boy and girl twins from a working class background in East London, who have both contracted TB and are dispatched to a newly built sanatorium in Kent, to recover, or more likely, to gradually waste away.
So far in the book there have been several mentions of the supposedly miracle drug streptomycin, but it is clear that at this stage it is only for the select few. So it got me thinking about just how much our beloved NHS, which has been one of the few constants in my life, really has afforded me a safety net that is so reliable that I cannot actually imagine my life without it.
They say that travel broadens the mind; I would say that it can shock and frighten too. On holiday in the US last year (in the light of current events I don’t think I’ll be going back there for some time), we visited a small rock and soul museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. We handed the entrance fee to the friendly and informative woman behind the cash desk. I would have placed her age as somewhere in her early 50s. She then got up and proceeded to head towards the museum entrance, limping heavily and leaning on an old fashioned wooden crutch under one arm that would not have looked out of place if Tiny Tim Cratchit had been using it. Tim is the youngest son of Bob Cratchit in Dickens’s novel A Christmas Carol; his father’s life and struggle is symbolic of the overworked, underpaid, exploited individual.
“Oh my gosh”, I said, rather stupidly. “What happened to your leg?” She shrugged and replied. “I need a hip replacement, but I’ve just found out that my insurance doesn’t cover it. So that’s that.”
Now could someone born and raised in the UK with a national health service free at the point of delivery please tell me what I should have said at that point. Because, rather stupidly again, I was left with my jaw hanging open, watching this women hobble painfully down the corridor and wondering how long she had before she would have to resort to a wheelchair. Assuming she could afford one of course.
I recently saw the film Bridget Jones’s Baby. It is great fun – hilarious, tragic, ridiculous and at times plain silly, but the bit that jarred for me was Bridget’s personal and ongoing relationship with her gynaecologist at the hospital, played by Emma Thompson at her most witty, ironic and sardonic. Now I don’t personally know anyone who had a baby at the sort of private clinic where Bridget gives birth, or has her own gynaecologist. (“And yes”, said Dame B testily, “I know all about suspension of disbelief.”) There is so much of Bridget with which I can resonate, but the private clinic did not seem in keeping with her lifestyle as depicted on the screen.
So there you have it – a woman in Mississippi facing the prospect of old age as a cripple, and a contemporary fictional heroine giving birth in a private clinic. I guess we ornery Brits are somewhere in the middle in terms of healthcare. And by gosh I’m grateful for it. It goes without saying that the Dames are determined to do their bit to fight to preserve the NHS – no backdoor privatisation/selling bits off to the USA as part of our new trade deal.