We got a letter today from my son’s allergy hospital to say that he had been discharged from their care, because of the unprecedented pressure they’re facing from the global pandemic.
It’s undoubtedly the right decision. The letter carries the same date as the Government’s announcement that the daily death toll had reached 980 people. When almost a thousand people are dying – daily – from such a threat we all have to do our bit. Staying home to protect the NHS to save lives. And willingly relinquishing non-urgent medical appointments is definitely part of the deal.
But the clinic wasn’t just informing us that the appointment would be postponed. It was discharging us entirely, with an invitation to request a re-referral in two and a half years. In two and a half years. The hospital isn’t just anticipating a blip in their normal service, to be resumed at some point in the summer. It’s anticipating a radically different reality for the foreseeable future in which their services and staff will be stretched like never before.
The coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in modern times, yes. But it was not unforeseeable. Businesses knew a pandemic like this would come at some point or other. The Wimbledon tennis tournament had insured itself against the risks of a global pandemic for so many years that it is now reportedly expecting a £100 million payout. The Government ran a pandemic drill in 2016 to see how public services would fare. Guess what, the NHS ‘failed’ it. People have been screaming from the rooftops about the dangerously underfunded NHS for years. The junior doctors were striking about it in 2016. The NHS just wasn’t resourced to be ready. Official data shows the UK has 2.8 hospital beds per 1000 people compared to Germany which has 8.3.
And yet, here we are. Cancer patients are finding themselves back of the queue, people with life-limiting illnesses are being asked to sign Do Not Resuscitate letters before they even contract Covid-19. The NHS is on its knees. Its staff are dying in such horrifying numbers that the Government either don’t know or won’t say how many.
Compared to these wild injustices, the fact we’ve been discharged from the allergy clinic seems pretty inconsequential. It will still have its impact on us. The Evelina clinic at St Thomas’ has given us first class care as we struggled to understand the implications and impact of my son’s allergies. We were grateful to have a place on their books, and I’m still grateful we had one. The staff truly seem like the best in the world when it comes to allergy care. From the doctor who reminds us how to spot the signs of anaphylaxis, to the asthma nurse who teaches us to use an inhaler, to the Health Care Assistant who playfully distracts my son with funny stories as she takes his blood – these people are heroes who have made a difference to us.
But it’s not just the loss of a place on a clinic, is it? Those with life-threatening allergies like my son rely on the whole NHS ecosystem: the paramedics who’ll come when he has an anaphylactic reaction; the A&E doctors and nurses who’ll care for him when he arrives; the GP who’ll keep prescribing epi-pens; the pharmacist who’ll keep stocking them.
And all of this will be under yet more threat after this global pandemic has torn through our precious NHS which was left so vulnerable by underfunding through the austerity years.
Will the Government give the NHS what it needs after this crisis has subsided? A cash-boost like never seen before; a care system which is free at the point of use; a radical new settlement and pay-rises for all NHS staff? All I can say is I hope so.