If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It – A Lesson From NHS Direct (Part 1/4)

(This was originally meant to all be in one big article but I got rather carried away and now I have 2000 words. I’ll now be publishing it in a few parts to squeeze every last measly drop of content I can out of it. See I’m learning good journalistic practises already)

After our recent general election, I saw a lot of people posting on social media about how the NHS is doomed, rest in peace NHS, and that the Tories would essentially sell of their grandmas in order to make money out of her private healthcare scheme. It all struck me as a bit late to be upset about how the NHS has been treated. If you’re not supposed to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted, this was like locking the door after the horse had run into next door’s field and knocked up their world-class filly.

The NHS has been in trouble for years, mostly due to political mishandling and naivety. I could talk about how Labour facilitated private finance initiative (PFIs), which were originally a Tory idea. I could mention the promise not to reorganise the NHS made by David Cameron, which was rather spectacularly broken by the Coalition government.

In fairness to Mr Shiny Forehead, Matthew D’Ancona’s book ‘In It Together’ puts the blame squarely on Andrew Lansley. Given Lansley’s history of taking money from private healthcare whilst a minister, fiddling his expenses, and letting massive multinational corporations get involved with drafting health legislation, I can absolutely believe it was entirely his moronic idea. You won’t be surprised to know that Lansley has stepped down as an MP, and I’ll be following with interest to see whether he joins any of his chums in private healthcare or fast food.

Instead of those two undoubtedly meaty topics, I’ll talk about the demise of NHS Direct, and it’s successor, NHS 111.

NHS Direct officially passed away on March 31st 2014, and became NHS 111. Now on the surface, they should be pretty similar. Both exist to take calls from worried members of the public about medical problems, and to direct them to the right area of the NHS. In essence, it is designed to send those with sore throats to the chemist and away from A&E and to tell stubborn Yorkshireman that walking off there sudden right-sided paralysis probably isn’t the best idea.

I have personally seen the first one happening – as I was being asked about the massive bandage I had covering one eye, a man came in with a rather messy injury which I can only describe as ‘industrial staple may have burst an eyeball’. Understandably, the man was sent through immediately to see someone. Less understandably, someone complained they hadn’t been seen about their sore throat for an hour, and it was unfair they’d been waiting so long.

I’ve not seen a Yorkshireman try to walk off sudden paralysis, though a consultant reliably informed me that he has.

Anyway, NHS Direct was a service that ran for 16 years and was described as the best service of its kind in the world. In the interest of balance, it was accused of being expensive and wasteful. As those accusation centered around questions such as ‘why is it as expensive to call NHS Direct as visit the GP?’, ‘NHS Direct is too cautious and send too many people to GPs’ ‘why are we translating our service into Cherokee?’, I’d say those criticisms may have been valid. But what NHS Direct was never accused of was being a bad service. It primarily did what it was supposed to do and, most importantly, it was safe. 

(For Part 2, click here)

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3 thoughts on “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It – A Lesson From NHS Direct (Part 1/4)

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