THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Heresy and the clerisy
Doctor Dalrymple's insights

What the British State has learned from COVID

No-one escapes the consequences of the government's response to the COVID pandemic, but the Paine Family has escaped unscathed from the virus itself  – so far. My elderly parents were vulnerable because of their age and health but have managed to steer clear of those hubs of infection - care homes and hospitals. Until this week.

I am currently staying with my frail, elderly mother while my frail, elderly father is in hospital. He collapsed when he attempted to get up on Sunday morning. He was retrieved from the floor and returned to his bed by kindly neighbours. He was eventually hospitalised on Sunday evening after a grandson had spent hours on the phone to medically-unqualified, algorithm-driven NHS gatekeepers in call-centres.

I say hospitalised but gurney-ised would be more accurate. He was not diagnosed until Monday morning when he was finally taken off his trolley, admitted to a ward and given antibiotics. Too late, it seems because he had developed sepsis (one of the most common agents of death in emergency care). Crowds of medics materialised and his life seems to have been saved from the threat their previous absence had quite possibly caused.

This sob story has, I promise, a point. The experience has exposed us directly to the interesting way in which the government health service in Britain has responded to the pandemic. My mother, my sisters and I faced a situation in which Dad seemed likely to be lost to us, but we were forbidden to visit him or be at hand. In normal times, we would have had opportunities to speak to his consultant. Instead we have a number to call. Sometimes a recorded message tells us all staff are busy. Sometimes an anonymous voice summons a staff nurse to give us an update. Sometimes she comes. Sometimes another anonymous voice tells us she's too busy.

After forty-eight hours of that, I asked if it was possible to speak to the consultant. This seemed to be considered a radical request. However I was given a name and told to call the main switchboard and ask for his secretary. I did so and left a message on her answering machine. I called again the next morning and left another. I then got a call saying my message has been passed on and "he knows you want to speak to him". I am still waiting. Despite her careful choice of words, I take some hope from the fact that his secretary did not seem to think it lese-majesté on my behalf to ask.

It's quite shocking how normal this all now seems to NHS staff. They seem actively to prefer not having to deal with the families of patients. Assuming (as I think is reasonable given the staff nurse's response to my request) that most families don't ask to speak to consultants, they at least must have a more relaxed life than usual. I suppose it's up for debate whether the time staff nurses spend on the phone to families is more or less than the time they used to spend dealing with them in person. 

I find it hard to imagine a socialised service untrammelled by market mechanisms will ever return to its old standard now the public has meekly accepted this kind of service. One of my sisters said that "someone will have to give them a rocket" but who, pray, is likely to do that? The Labour Party is the political wing of the public sector unions and the "Conservative Party" is now – at best – New Labour reborn.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

James Higham

Best of course. Terrible thing.


That’s precisely how it seems to my family and me right now. 

Lord T


Fingers crossed and best wishes for you and yours. Good luck.

Don't think there is anything more to be said about the NHS.


Things will only improve when the livelihoods of the priestly class depend on the satisfaction of patients and their families. At present all the incentives run in keeping the administrative class happy.

Cheryl Churm

I am sorry to hear about your father and hope he recovers from his current health emergency.

It was only a few years ago when my dad fell ill and the consultants wanted to talk to the family as well as the patient. I suspect they still do.

The NHS body has become overburdened by rules and regulations in the same way that other public services have. The top of the tree needs to be changed to enable the lower branches (doctors, nurses, consultants etc) to do the job they trained for. The many rules and regulations block them from providing their services in the optimal way.

Schrodinger's Dog


My best wishes for your father.

I remember you writing in your blog, around 2007, words to effect that, one day perhaps we will be able to discuss major NHS reform, but that day is not yet. Fourteen years on, and we're not an inch further forward, are we?

And the pandemic has taught the British Government something else, hasn't it? People, at least a majority, don't much care about their liberties.


A pox upon the priestly class of the NHS!

David Bishop

I am sorry (but not surprised) to hear of your family's travails with 'our (insert adjective of choice) NHS', but pleased to hear that your father pulled through. Your ghastly experience tends to bear out something I believe I first read here: that the initial stages of the NHS process can be appalling but that the actual medical attention can be first rate - if one can survive to reach it.

My already considerable scorn for our public 'services' has only deepened during the Covid episode, and the miserable experience you describe lowers it a further notch.

The Sergeant Major

Glad for you that the Old Boy pulled through. Good luck.

The comments to this entry are closed.