My wife almost became a victim of Covid-19 the other day. She didn’t catch the virus, but fell downstairs. She hurtled headfirst from eight steps up as though she was a human cannonball. And landed on her head.
My first panic-stricken thought was that she had a broken neck or fractured skull. She lay motionless.
“What does this have to do with the virus?” you might ask, quite reasonably.
Well, the bitter irony was that we were on our way out of our house for something more precious than gold these days – a hospital appointment delayed by the pandemic.
Since the UK Government and devolved Scottish administration ordered hospitals to clear the decks for Covid-19 cases, they quite possibly signed off death sentences for some of the most serious non-coronavirus cases, such as cancer and heart disease.
They were among tens of thousands of patients cast aside to make way for the crisis. The true cost of this scandal is piling up in horrendous waiting lists.
I read an article by an ophthalmic surgeon in Wales the other day and my blood ran cold at his words. He said patients were going blind at home because they could not get eye operations.
This was due to the backlog and hospitals still operating way below their capacity as NHS Covid protection measures maintained their stranglehold.
Another set of statistics published a few days ago revealed that cancer screening referrals were down by 60% on last year.
If this is happening to the most serious life-threatening cases what chance do humble hip and knee sufferers, at the bottom of this heap, have of getting treatment?
My wife has been nursing an agonising knee condition for six months since her original X-ray appointment was scrapped on the day NHS shutters came down. We knew it could cause a nasty fall at any moment as her knee joint gives way frequently.
At last a new appointment letter dropped through the door to attend an Aberdeen clinic for delayed X-rays. It looked like a green shoot of recovery – a sign that the NHS was trying to get back to normal.
This is where we were going when her knee buckled as she hobbled downstairs. I was at the front door when she screamed out. I instinctively turned and made a move towards her.
But she had already landed with a sickening thud. I’ll never forget her terrified face coming down the stairs.
The incredible thing was that within a few seconds she was moving and talking. The only obvious injury was a large lump on the back of her head.
She developed a mass of nasty bruises in the days which followed (including around her crippled knee), but it could have been much worse.
Something extraordinary happened as I tried to comfort her on the floor.
You would think the first thing we might do would be call an ambulance or drive to A&E.
No, my wife and I decided to get to the clinic pronto to save the appointment at all costs. It was minutes away.
This is what things have come to – we could see the appointment vanishing like a winning lottery ticket falling down a drain. And another six-month wait?
Maybe our judgment was blurred by shock, but I dashed off to the clinic while she lay on the floor trying to recover her senses. The doors were locked to the public, of course, but I negotiated my way in via an intercom on the wall.
The first thing they said after I explained our predicament was: “You should take her to A&E.”
It did occur to me that my wife might have had a relapse while I was standing there, but if I had glue with me I would have done an Extinction Rebellion and stuck myself to the reception desk until they gave her another appointment asap.
It was ten past three, but they were closing at 4 (and I thought they were supposed to be clearing the backlog). Come to think of it, the place was almost deserted, with virtually all chairs removed from waiting areas.
Eventually, a kindly administrator up the road at Woodend Hospital showed there is still some compassion around by intervening and rearranging X-rays for first thing in the morning at the same clinic.
All’s well that ends well? But it’s not over yet – who knows if she will ever be treated.
We are not a special case; there are countless thousands in the same agonising trap of delay, pain and anxiety, with hope draining away. But I have a public voice to make a point on their behalf.
Many people suffer so much they need specialist pain clinics, but the P&J reported last week on a worsening backlog for them, too.
We don’t hear our political leaders in Westminster or Holyrood talking much about this waiting list timebomb they have created.
But they love a catchy slogan: “Protect the NHS…” etc…
I’m offering a new one free to Boris and Nicola to remind them of the scandal they preside over: “Stop the pain…stop the misery…protect abandoned NHS patients”.