Real life

Trust the NHS to take the worst elements of the private sector

29 August 2020

9:00 AM

29 August 2020

9:00 AM

After driving around the hospital grounds in concentric circles until I was surely down a wormhole, I found the scanning unit. It was shoehorned down a narrow alley and had four parking spaces outside its door, all of them empty, but the sign above them was clear:

‘Private parking, wheel-clamping in operation.’ It did not say patient parking. Most likely, with a sign like that, it was staff parking.

I looked around and realised I was stuck down a dead end. My only option was to reverse backwards, craning my neck around because the old Volvo long ago ceased to have functioning beepers. As my neck was the reason I was having a scan in the first place, it was somewhat ironic that I now found myself twisting it beyond endurance in order to reverse the entire length of a hospital campus that was lined with cars all the way, with nowhere to turn around until I rejoined the main road.

The lady on the phone with the broken English had been adamant. When she asked me if I knew where to come, I said I intended to park in the main car park by A&E and walk through the hospital but she insisted I should not do this. I must drive to the back of the hospital grounds because there I would find a dedicated car park next to, let’s call it, General Medical Diagnostic Imaging.

Well, there most definitely wasn’t one. And the business of reversing out of her bad directions was making my problem and the reason I was here in the first place even worse. By the time I had driven backwards, howling, almost all the way to A&E, parked in the main car park and hobbled into the hospital, I was running late. I started wandering around looking for signs to the diagnostic imaging.

A lady standing behind a huge help desk decorated with the obligatory Covid-inspired rainbow pictures painted by children shouted at me: ‘Are you lost? Where do you want to get to?’

‘General Medical Diagnostic,’ I said, showing her my appointment letter, which bore the logo of the private company.

Whereupon she all but projectile vomited in my face. ‘What?’ she snapped. I explained I was heading for an MRI scan, which, through no fault of mine, was being done by this private company that now did all this particular NHS hospital’s scanning. She must know that surely?

But if she did, it still seemed to be a cause of fresh torment to her, for she spat: ‘I don’t know anything about that! That’s a private company. It’s nothing to do with us. You’ll have to ask them!’ With ‘them’ meaning ‘the evil Tories’, I presumed.

I carried on walking around until I saw a sign bearing the imaging company’s logo and followed its instructions to take the lift down. Then more signs directed me to the very furthest reaches of the hospital and eventually an obscure looking double door into… no, it wasn’t the morgue, it was a small waiting area.

A girl at the desk told me to take a seat. ‘Why did you tell me to drive to the back door when there’s no parking?’ I asked her.

‘There is parking. That’s the parking,’ she said, pointing out of a window to the spaces with the signs saying no parking. I gave up and sat down. You can’t argue wearing a face mask. It just makes you sound like Hannibal Lecter.

Musak was playing. Trust the NHS to take the worst elements of the private sector, I thought.

It was disappointing because I so wanted this to be a good experience. I’m well up for a bit of privatisation, as you know, and I was hoping this would prove my argument that we should allow companies to do more in the NHS on the basis that they will be more efficient.

The musak was actually a scratchy sound system playing hits of the 1980s.

‘I’m your private dancer,’ sang Tina Turner, as I sat there wondering whether they would find arthritis in my aching neck. I sang along to myself: ‘I’m your private scanner. I scan you for money, and any old car park will do…’

A nice chap took me in before too long and the scan was done very efficiently, I have to say. Barely half an hour later I was wandering back through the hospital, past the concession coffee shop and the M&S Food, out the main doors by A&E and over the pedestrian crossing to the car park, where I passed a sign bearing the legend: ‘The money raised from car parking charges last year paid for the equivalent of 40 staff nurses.’

Paid for the equivalent of, not paid for the nurses. What it actually paid for heaven knows.

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