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Don’t play Russian roulette with your health and life

January 5, 2011

If you don’t choose very carefully you are entering a lottery with your health and life. This is no exaggeration – official figures show that at least one in ten patients are unhappy with the care they get from the NHS. The number would probably be higher if the public really understood everything that happens to them when in hospital.
The recently published Atlas of Variation [in the NHS] makes it crystal clear that simply exerting choice of who looks after you will often determine what happens to you – your chance of having an amputation or stroke if you are diabetic, your chance of surviving a heart-attack, your mental health, the list goes on and on.
The Department of Health used to ask NHS staff if they’d be happy to be treated in their own hospitals – they stopped asking the question because the percentage who were unhappy to get care in the very places they worked was so high.
Many people will recount super care they’ve received from the NHS – and most of what is delivered is good or satisfactory. But a significant proportion is not good at all and some is very poor. Those who don’t do all they can to ensure they avoid the bad parts are playing Russian roulette with their health and that of those they love.

And don’t think for one moment that exerting choice (being “pushy”) is bad for the NHS or somehow being a bad citizen. In fact the reverse is true: demanding, informed patients and a public that chooses to avoid bad hospitals and bad doctors is helping to actively improve the NHS and the care received by the next patient. Bad care causes illness and sickness, it costs the country huge amounts of money and is one of the reasons why the UK lags behind a number of other countries in the survival of some significant conditions. By accepting this situation, the public helps perpetuate the status quo.

None of this should make you think I don’t admire the NHS and the many admirable people who work so hard to make it better. It is precisely because I care for the NHS and all it does that I want it to improve (and know it has to), to ensure that all patients can get great, great care – not just those who take the time to choose carefully.

One day the variation across the NHS will be far less (transparency and competition will ensure this), and there will be no need for iWantGreatCare. Until that day comes, please spend at least as long choosing your GP or hospital as you do when booking a holiday, or choosing a hotel or restaurant. It could be a lot more important to you…

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