It’s been ages since I posted on this blog.
That doesn’t mean I’ve given up writing blogposts. On the contrary, I’ve had a blogpost every day for months on my daily 3sixtyfive blog: https://3sixtyfiveblog.wordpress.com/
Michael and I have also been preparing his new novel, Leefdale, for publication.
Obviously this has been a bit tricky as we’ve been interrupted every two weeks when I’ve had to go for my chemotherapy.
However, we got there in the end and Leefdale was launched a few days ago.
I thought I’d reblog this post from my 3sixtyfiveblog to tell you more about Leefdale.
It’s already been downloaded by some of our family and friends and initial feedback has been very positive so thankyou all for your support.
I’m working on my next Cabbage and Semolina Blogpost which is provisionally titled “Pianos, Pets and Pinnies” so watch this space!
All the best,
Today I’m doing a book promotion for Michael Murray’s new novel, Leefdale.
As well as being the author of Magnificent Britain, Julia’s Room, and the best-selling detective novel, A Single to Filey, Michael has been my other half for over forty years. He’s been writing Leefdale and its companion novel, Magnificent Britain for over twenty years. Yes, I did say twenty! Magnificent Britain was published as a Kindle ebook in 2012 and is also available as an Amazon print-on-demand paperback.
Leefdale was published a couple of days ago and can be downloaded for a special launch price of 99p / $0.99. Magnificent Britain is £5.99 and both novels are in KindleUnlimited.
I’ve been a very busy blogger since November 3rd 2017 – just not on this blog!
You might enjoy my daily 3sixtyfiveblog which is an eclectic mix of Music, Books, TV and Film, Healthy Eating, NHS, Living with Cancer, Blogging Tips, #OnThisDay and Flowers. There’s a short history of 3sixtyfiveblog at 100th Blogpost and my rationale for the blog is at First Blog Post.
Since my cancer diagnosis I’ve visited my local district hospital every couple of weeks either for treatment, scans or consultations.
I’ve become acutely aware of the pressure our NHS is under.
My generation is aging fast and every day more individuals become patients needing care. But where is the surprise in this? We’re the baby boomers! As I wrote in Your National Health Service in 2017
We needed more school places, more training, more jobs, more houses, more maternity services, more school places and injections for our children, and more doctors, nurses, dentists and teachers for them too. And now we need lots more health and social care for ourselves.
So why is the government so surprised?
Surely they knew we baby-boomers were there. They must have realised we were getting older? That we’d need more health and social care. Why wasn’t the Health Department making preparations? Why weren’t they planning for the increasing demographic? Isn’t that what government is supposed to do? And if they’ve been planning, well they haven’t made a very good job of it, have they?
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not complaining about the NHS, the staff, my treatment or anything to do with the day-to-day service we receive.
It’s the failure of the Secretary of State for Health to take personal responsibility for our NHS. In days gone by the politician heading a department was in charge. Now responsibility and accountability lies with the chief executives of the national Health Services. NHS England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, NHS Northern Ireland. It used to just be the NHS! The fragmentation goes much further of course into the multitude of organisations with fingers in the NHS pie.
If you want to have a slight freak out just watch this video from the King’s Fund which attempts to make sense of the NHS.
And in each local area there are the Sustainability and Transformation plans which supposedly plot the direction of travel for each region.
But there’s a new kid on the NHS block:
Accountable Care Organisations.
This is the latest scheme from the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, to introduce new commercial, non-NHS bodies to run health and social services without proper public consultation and without full Parliamentary scrutiny.
My cancer journey has arrived at the start of Cycle 9 of my treatment.
I went to our local chemotherapy unit yesterday for an appointment that commenced at 8.30, finished just after 2.30 pm and was a cocktail of 11 intravenous drugs via my Hickman Line and one injection.
I’m having Cetuximab, Irinotecan and 5Flourouracil plus Calcium Folate and an assortment of anti vomiting, diarrhoea and allergy drugs every two weeks for 12 cycles.
I had a consultation with the oncologist after Cycle 6. I’d had a CT scan the week before and he was delighted to show us the before-and-after scans as the chemotherapy has shrunk the tumour in my liver considerably. The cancer markers in my blood tests are considerably reduced as well. So, so far, very good progress.
I had an MRI scan a couple of weeks ago which didn’t detect any more cancer in my pelvic bone so, fingers crossed, that might have been brought under control.
I also have 48 hours of chemotherapy at home via a pump connected to the Hickman Line which is disconnected by a nurse from the Community team.
I can’t speak too highly of the consultants, the chemotherapy nurses and the community nurses. And I’m so thankful that our NHS is here for me now I need it. But we can’t be complacent. The doctors, nurse, technicians and support staff can only look after us if the funding, in real terms, is made available. They’re doing a marvellous job in increasingly difficult circumstances. I can’t see any justification for the ever increasing syphoning off of public money for private profit. And if you want to read some details check out this page on the We Own It website.
Meanwhile, many thanks for the supportive comments, e-mails and Twitter messages.
Some of the side-effects of my chemotherapy are tough and it’s lovely to know that so many people are concerned about me.
and apart from Radio 4’s “Today” don’t listen to any programme or radio station regularly.
the massive expansion in niche, small scale radio outlets has largely passed me by. Until last Saturday when I found myself tuned intoSurge Radio, a student radio station based at Southampton University. By the wonders of Wifi, I was listening to a live radio show produced for a very specific demographic and location and enjoying every minute of it.
What a contrast with the 1950s when all we had was BBC, BBC, BBC.
We always listened to the radio at teatime. “Children’s Hour” started at 5pm before the early evening News. The programme I remember was “Toytown” featuring Larry the Lamb and his clever sidekick, Dennis the Dachshund. In each story a misunderstanding occurred, often caused by Mr. Inventor, and involving Ernest the Policeman, the disgruntled Mr Growser the Grocer and the Mayor. I can’t remember any of the stories but the opening music is another matter entirely. “The Parade of the Tin Soldiers” by Leon Jessel remains a lovely, catchy tune to this day.
This version of The Parade of the Tin Soldiers performed by Nanyang Elementary School Recorder Orchestra in Taiwan is totally fantastic!
The News was broadcast at 6pm.
The newsreaders of the day spoke with an unrecognisable accent but we knew they were posh and in-charge!
Every week my dad bought The Radio Times
and went through it religiously, drawing a ring round the programmes he didn’t want to miss. He did the same for the TV programmes too. The Radio Times only had the radio programmes and one TV channel. Even after ITV started in 1955 their programmes weren’t included in The Radio Times. If you wanted to know what was coming up on ITV you had to buy the TV Times as well.
We still buy The Radio Times
but never go through ringing the programmes. With BBC iPlayer and the other catchup services there’s no point.
The BBC launched a second channel in 1964
and remembering the excitement is almost risible. We really were thrilled! But not so thrilled as a couple of years later when colour TV was launched.
Our family were part of the 95% but eventually we got a colour TV and thought we’d arrived in broadcasting heaven.
And yes, that is David Attenborough of Life on Earth and Blue Planet.
We’ve come a long way
from the single TV channel and three radio stations of my childhood to the seemingly unlimited offer of 24/7 TV, radio, films and podcasts. And, of course,Surge Radio.
I was listening to The Comedy Radio Sofa
which is on for an hour at 10am on Saturday morning. My niece, Laura, is involved with the show and a few minutes before the start she’d Whatsappd her family and friends with an invitation to listen.
I’m not going to say that the humour was on my wave-length throughout the programme but I enjoyed the mix of live studio banter and pre-recorded sketches. Continuity between the components was good and the sound quality was excellent.
The performers were well prepared, assured and clearly enjoying themselves. Certainly an entertaining start to a dull and drizzly Saturday morning!
Thanks for reading my blog today
and, as always, thanks for the messages of support.
I’ve had to make lots of adjustments to body maintenance including changes to diet, moisturising and taking plenty of rests. At times this can all be very irksome but is undeniably necessary.
However there are some unexpected benefits such as chocolate!
For several years I’ve been seriously weight-watching and have reduced from an all time high of 12st 13lbs to a steady and sustained 10st 4lbs which is about in the middle of the body mass index chart for my height. It wasn’t easy getting to my new healthy weight or staying there. It’s meant no cakes, biscuits, sweets, crisps, sugary drinks or chocolate for months and months!
But now I can have treats and don’t seem to put on any weight. Although the healthy eating reasons for not having fat, salt and sugar remain the same. So I’ve indulged on Bounty bars, Galaxy and peppermint Aero and haven’t gained an ounce! Yum!!
And then there’s Green People.
My skin has become extremely dry and needs daily smotherings of E45 lotion. The advice from the Macmillan experts is to avoid any scented skin products so I’ve started buying Green People shower gel, shampoo and conditioner and this has proved to be a great find.
In 1994, a young mum, Charlotte Vøhtz, was searching for skin care products for her daughter, Sandra, who had multiple skin allergies and eczema. Charlotte was looking for natural products that would be gentle on Sandra’s sensitive skin. She found that many so-called natural skin care brands used almost entirely synthetic ingredients and so Charlotte decided to resolve the problem herself. She teamed up with European researchers to create a range of skincare products that did not include sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, alcohol (ethanol) or synthetic fragrances or colourants. The Green People range was launched in 1997 and appears to have gone from strength to strength.
The products I’ve tried are really good. They’re expensive but a little goes a long way. As well as becoming extremely dry my skin has acquired a severe rash from the Cetuximab treatment. The Cetuximab has its own special cream but my skin doesn’t need aggravating with anything harsh. So far the Green People shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are lovely to use and don’t make my skin condition worse. 10/10 and five stars for Green People skincare products from me!
And best of all, enforced resting provides hours of blissful reading time.
There are many horrible side-effects to chemotherapy of which some of the worst are vomiting and severe diarrhoea, fatigue and mouth ulcers. I’ve managed to avoid the first two but have been hit hard by the others. The only way to deal with the fatigue is to rest. For anyone who has spent their life doing everything at top speed, this necessity to stop and sit doesn’t come easily!
I’ve always loved reading and always have at least one book on the go and several more books in the waiting to be read folder. And in the last couple of months I’ve had the time to read loads of really good books (mainly on my Kindle). Getting lost in a good novel has allowed me to go to other zones for some release from the pressures and challenges of my changed life.
If you’re looking for a good book, I recommend all of these. They’ve each given me so much pleasure. Different genres; some books mainstream and some indie published; authors I’ve read before and some new ones. Each book a delight to read and a new world to inhabit. (I’ve linked each title to it’s page on Amazon in case you want to find out more or read the free sample.)
One night, a week or so after I’d been diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t sleep and for some reason remembered reading a review of Christopher Hitchens’ book, Mortality. With the wonder of Kindle I was immediately able to read the opening pages and I felt that the book matched my mood perfectly. Mortality is only a short book, about 120 pages, and I downloaded it and read it straight through that night.
Hitchens certainly tells it as it is. His reputation for plain speaking is vindicated in this book: there’s none of the glossing over of the worst aspects of a cancer diagnosis that you find on all the major cancer charity websites. Hitchens describes his experiences of treatment and subsequent deterioration in blunt, graphic prose.
But each chapter also includes some of the funniest and most acerbic writing I’ve encountered in a long time. Hitchens didn’t properly complete the book. The vicissitudes of the illness overcame his ability to continue writing. But he gave it a good go and continued writing for much longer than most people probably would. Mortality is a sad book but it’s uplifting and entertaining too. Not for the faint-hearted but well worth reading for its honesty ad truth.
Earlier in the year we watched the ITV drama series Prime Suspect 1973 which explored Jane Tennison’s early years in the police force. We found the plot in this adaptation of Linda la Plante’s novel, “Tennison”, to be stodgy and predictable but we greatly enjoyed the series for a number of reasons.
The costume designer is Amy Roberts who, according to the IMDb website, was nominated for an Olivier Award for best costumes for the 2009 stage production of The Misanthrope starring Damien Lewis and Keira Knightley. Well, Amy certainly deserved an award for the costumes in Prime Suspect 1973. She captured the spirit of the era beautifully and the series was worth watching for the costumes alone.
The music draws on some of the more obscure pop and rock hits (and misses) of the period: songs I hadn’t heard in decades plus a few of the better known efforts. Mixed in are some original pieces specially composed for the series which blend seamlessly with the authentic sounds of the 70s.
The lighting was the ultimate stroke of genius in the series. A drab lighting pallette conveyed the depressed nature of the economic state of the country reflecting the low tech quality of the TV camera work of the day.
A strong cast including a couple of veteran household names (Alun Armstrong and Ruth Sheen) brought real commitment to their roles. They had the attitudes perfectly and the ensemble playing of the various groups within the cast was exemplary.
Every prejudice that manifested all day and every day in the early seventies was captured authentically in this production. The embryonic feminism displayed by Jane Tennison was tempered by the chauvinistic prevailing norms of the era. Shocking levels of racism and homophobia percolating the script were presented head on with no compromise. If nothing else, this series was a celebration of progress. Yes, of course, there’s further to go and more to do. But compared with thirty years ago it was encouraging that attitudes had changed so much.
When Prime Suspect 1973 ended I noticed that three Prime Suspect novels were available in the Kindle Store for just 99p for the set. The three books are currently retailing at £9.99 so it was a good buy! I read the three novels one after the other and enjoyed reading them. The novels are rather dated now although there are some scenes which illustrate the institutionalised racism of the era very starkly.
The plots of the three novels are engaging and the character development of Tennison and her colleagues is very good. Overall, a good light read which reminds you how much better was the TV adaptation than the novels.
I was surprised to read that no further Prime Supect 1973 episodes are planned. Apparently there were creative differences between the TV company and the author resulting in a parting of the ways. What a pity: we were looking forward to more!
Exactly four months since I had my GP appointment in May at the start of my cancer journey.
May to September
I’ve always liked that song.
It’s May to December really with a turning point in September.
Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December But the days grow short when you reach September When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame One hasn’t got time for the waiting game
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few September, November And these few precious days I’ll spend with you These precious days I’ll spend with you.
I’m not all that bothered about the lyrics of the song, actually. It’s the melody I really like. Very hummable!
One afternoon last week, Michael and I were reflecting on how our lives have been turned up-side-down from May to September. And I started humming the tune which stuck and I couldn’t get it out of my head. This was becoming more of an irritant than a pleasure so during one of my enforced resting periods I had a Youtube Fest and found lots of alternatives of “September Song” as it is properly known.
As well as all the usual crooners, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, & Co., there are some wonderfully unexpected arrangements of September Song.
I love this interpretation of the song by Lou Reed.
Lou Reed at his awesome best; and I can’t understand how I’ve got to this point in my life and never heard it before! Of course, I’ve made up for the omission with back to back listening since I found the recording.
was composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson for the 1938 Broadway musical production, Knickerbocker Holiday.
The song was originally performed by actor / singer Walter Thomas Huston. Walter probably has more fame as actor / director John Huston’s father and Anjelica Huston’s grandfather.
In 1950, Walter performed September Song again for film “September Affair”, starring Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten. In the film the two stars choose a gramophone record of the song to listen to as they fall in love. Walter’s voice rings out as the lovers gaze mawkishly into each other’s eyes. Apparently the film remained popular for years and the song continued to gain performers and fans.
In 1955 the American singer, pianist, comedian and actor Jimmy Durante showed what he could do with September Song.
Durante’s distinctive clipped gravelly speech, New York accent, language-butchery, jazz-influenced songs and prominent nose helped make him one of America’s most familiar and popular personalities from the 1920s through to the 1970s. Durante often referred to his nose as the Schnozzola (from the German Schnauze [nose]), and the word became his nickname. Durante’s own accompaniment at the start of his September Song is quickly handed over to a heavenly choir and a rather nice backing band and piano accompaniment. I liked the contrast between Durante’s expected style and this rather plaintive version of the song. Worth a listen for 1950s nostalgia.
I’ve always loved Billie Holiday and a few years ago bought a double CD of some of her best known and best loved performances.
But the collection didn’t include September Song. Of course, you wouldn’t expect such a soulful singer to pass up the opportunity to perform a beautiful melody like September Song. So, I was delighted to find Billie Holiday singing September Song on Youtube. https://youtu.be/OgwoGwGNgFY
Except it’s not!
Sarah Vaughan not Billie Holiday, according to every listener who’s posted a comment on the Youtube page. It’s still another lovely version of the song though.
This is a wonderful instrumental interpretation of September Song by Django Reinhardt.
Is Reinhardt the greatest guitarist who ever lived? You’ll have your own opinion but for me, no-one plays this or any other guitar piece better. Hope you enjoy it!
And I’ve saved the very best until last!
Of all the many, lovely September Songs I’ve listened to in the last couple of days this is my absolute favourite.
I love the tempo and the light, delicate phrasing; the long, lingering fading notes and the subtle contrasts; and the seductive accompaniment. One of the best Chet Baker covers I’ve ever heard. Just love it and hope you do too!
Thanks for reading my blog today.
It’s been a while since I posted an update on my treatment.
I’m halfway through the second cycle of my combined chemotherapy and monoclonal antibody therapy. I had an 8.30am – 4.30pm appointment in the chemotherapy unit to start cycle 2 for an amazing cocktail of twelve different drugs. This was followed by a 48 hour infusion of chemotherapy at home and now I’m on Day 8 of dealing with the side effects. I’ll tell you more about it another day but meanwhile, as always, many thanks for the good wishes and kind support which is really appreciated.
The writer of the tweet received mountains of Twitter support and the story was reported in The Guardian last Saturday.
The Nova Healthcare website makes for interesting reading.
You might like the description of the facilities provided by Nova Healthcare on the fourth floor of the Bexley Wing of St James’s Hospital in Leeds. I thought St James’s hospital was 100% part of our NHS but it’s not so simple.
The cover of the CQC report asks: Who runs this service.
The answer given is HTI St James’s Ltd.
A quick search of the Companies House website indicates that three of the seven active officers of the HTI St James’s company are all based in Alpharetta, Georgia USA. That seems a long way from Leeds!
If you like reading balance sheets you can read the most recent accounts for Nova Healthcare up to December 2015 here.
On page 7, the CQC Report helpfully explains that Nova Healthcare is “part of Aspen Healthcare which became shareholders in 2015.”
It’s been said somewhere that we take our NHS for granted until we need it and it’s only then that we start to realise what’s going on. Well, in recent weeks, my eyes have been well and truly opened to the extent of the privatisation of our NHS!
If you’re a Twitter user and a supporter of our NHS, you might like to follow @NHSMillion.
I went along to our local NHS hospital on 25th July to commence the second cycle of my chemotherapy.
The side effects from cycle one weren’t too bad apart from a massive lack of energy and considerable feelings of fatigue. But I was lucky in that I missed the vomiting and diarrhoea that makes chemotherapy so difficult for some patients.
A nurse checked my weight and blood pressure and I was getting ready for another round of prickly bottoms and an ice cold arm when the ward sister came to say that the oncologist wanted to speak to me before chemotherapy commenced.
The oncologist explained that the results of a biopsy on my primary cancer had revealed a “wild” Kras gene which meant that I could receive a targeted antibody therapy as well as the chemotherapy. The chemotherapy drugs would have to be changed to drugs that worked with this antibody drug but overall it would be a more effective treatment. It’s a treatment that’s specifically designed for advanced, metastasised, colorectal cancer to reduce the cancer and extend life. This is certainly an exciting development and I’ve an appointment to commence the new treatment next week.
The drugs are to be administered via a Hickman line aka a tunnelled central line. I never watch hospital dramas on TV and, being of a squeamish, wimpy nature, I usually close my eyes if any surgical stuff comes up in documentaries. But I thought I needed to know what the procedure entailed and found this to be the best explanation on Youtube.
The irony of this most helpful animation being produced by BUPA isn’t lost on me!
Once the Hickman line is in place it stays in until the end of the treatment. I shall be going for treatment in two-weekly cycles for twelve cycles. Day 1 of the treatment is as an out-patient of the chemotherapy department and I’ll be sent home with a pump attached to the Hickman line which will continue to deliver the drugs for a further 48 hours. A district nurse will come to the house to disconnect the pump and then it’s pick-and-mix time from an extraordinary array of potential side-effects. These include a skin infection that makes teenage acne look decorative. However, as the helpful Macmillan leaflets emphasise, no-one gets all the side effects and some people don’t get any side-effects at all apart from the fatigue and lack of energy which appears to be non-negotiable.
I’ll let you know how things develop and thanks, as always, for the messages of support.
Our National Health Service was 69 years old on July 5th.
I missed the occasion on social media as I was occupied with other health matters. July 5th was the first of my fourteen days of chemotherapy tablets. But catching up later, there were some lovely and well deserved tributes to our NHS on Facebook, Twitter and various websites.
My first encounter with our NHS was at birth.
When I was a baby my dad’s special name for me was “Workus” because he always said that I’d been born in Barnsley workhouse. In a way this was true because the maternity hospital where I was born was situated in the infirmary building of the old workhouse. By the early 1950s the infirmary and other workhouse buildings had become part of the NHS. Fortunately, the nick-name didn’t stick!
Over the next few years I had the usual childhood ailments and visits to the doctor. Measles was common in the 1950s and I had it quite badly in early childhood. Polio and diptheria were still rampant and cases of polio could climb as high as 8000 in epidemic years, with cases of diphtheria as high as 70000 resulting in 5000 deaths. Fortunately in 1958 our NHS introduced polio and diphtheria vaccines from which I and thousands of other children benefited.
I also had persistent tonsillitis and in 1957 went into hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids removed.
Children in hospital were usually treated alongside adults. Child patients were only allowed to see their parents for an hour on Saturdays and Sundays and there were few attempts to explain to them why they were there or what was going to happen. That was certainly my experience when I went to hospital for the tonsillectomy. Fortunately paediatricians Sir James Spence in Newcastle and Alan Moncriff at Great Ormond Street began to take steps to change this. They showed that separation from parents was traumatic for children and, as a result, daily visiting was introduced. Dedicated children’s wards were introduced too and by the mid Sixties when my younger sister went for her tonsils out, the arrangements were much more as we’d expect to see today.
I gradually forgot about my childhood hospital experience and didn’t need to stay in hospital again until 1983.
However, in 1960 I became a recipient of one of the worst NHS offers of all time.
Not that there’s anything wrong with ensuring that all children have their eyesight checked regularly and providing glasses if necessary.
But the horrible, little, round, wire frames covered in flesh-coloured plastic with flexi-wire hooks round the ears were awful. The specs may well have improved vision but who wanted to wear them?
“Specky Four Eyes!” was an oft repeated playground chant and a favourite playground game was to chase the specs-wearer with a view to snatching the glasses and running off with them. Surreptitious pointing at the specs-wearer in the classroom and making circles with fingers round eyes when the teacher wasn’t looking ensured that the new specs were quickly discarded.
In addition to being a massive design failure the NHS specs were indestructible. Twisting the ear hooks just made them lop-sided; the screws holding the specs together were irremovable; thrown out of the bedroom window they merely bounced; and two bricks piled on top of them had no effect whatsoever. Fortunately, secondary school brought the present of a leather satchel from my grandparents: ideal for hiding the offending specs from the start of the school day to the end. Eventually I progressed to some more sophisticated frames with Edna Everidge wings and later on in the Sixties some super-cool black frames.
One of my favourite books is “The Britain I Want” by E. Shinwell MP.
The book was written in 1943 and it’s a fascinating indication of the Labour Party’s emerging plans for post-WW2 reconstruction and transformation. I’ve read “The Britain I Want” several times over the years and never fail to find some new insights within its pages. I always like this quote Shinwell made from the Beveridge Report:
“Restoration of a sick person to health is a duty of the State and prior to any other consideration.”
And this example of Shinwell’s own words still resonate today:
“There is nowadays a great awakening of the national conscience to an awareness of the social and economic horrors of the past. A fire has been lit that in its cleansing power will turn the minds of all right-minded men and women away from the filth, gross injustice and sheer inhumanity of the unthinking past, and give to social security the driving power and inspiration of a living gospel. In this conception there is no room for compromise and the hypocritical shufflings of half measures, no temporising with the grim monster of want, and no countenancing of moral and governmental cowardice.”
Of course, the book is no longer in print but second-hand copies appear in on-line bookshops from time to time. My copy was originally owned by Mr William P. Inglis who lived at 17, Partickhill Road, London, W1 according to the inscription in the flyleaf. The book is hard-back and still has its original dust-jacket. A real treasure!
My parents brought me up on tales of the Means Test and life before the welfare state.
My political education started early and I understood from a young age that political choices determine the nature of the society in which we live. It’s interesting to look back at the ups and downs of our NHS matched against the political orientation of the government of the day.
My recent experience of our NHS has been of the very best. I’ve gone from a referral by my GP for an ultra-sound scan to completing my first three-week cycle of chemotherapy in just eleven weeks.
As I explained in Don’t Leave It Too Late, I was feeling perfectly healthy on May 5th and had a cancer diagnosis by June 19th. In addition to the ultra-sound scan I’ve had X-rays; a CT scan; a PET scan; an ambulance journey between hospitals; talks with five different consultants; a colonoscopy and an endoscopy; several hours in A&E; and countless blood tests. That was all within 33 days and I’ve spent the last three weeks having my first cycle of chemotherapy. In addition to the Prickly Bottom, I’ve had eight chemotherapy tablets at home each day for fourteen days followed by seven rest days to allow my body time to recover and prepare for the next cycle.
I don’t know what the outcome of the treatment will be as the primary cancer has spread to other parts of my body. But this I do know:
the treatment I’ve received from our NHS has been exemplary
and nothing more could have been done to expedite my diagnosis and get me into treatment as quickly as possible.
And along the way I’ve met the most fantastic people. Whatever their role and responsibilities, I’ve experienced nothing but the highest professionalism, kindness and consideration from the doctors, nurses, technicians and support services staff that I’ve encountered in our NHS.
Our NHS is amazing and it’s because of the wonderful staff who give it their all.
Of course, the strain our NHS is under is clearly visible. I’ve experienced trolley queues in A&E; delays to appointments; and worryingly long waiting times for appointments for scans. The reason my progress through the system has been so rapid is because I’ve been offered last minute cancellations for scans and consultations when other patients were unable to attend and I was able to change my plans and take whatever appointment was offered.
I’ve also observed patients waiting too long for attention from staff while the same staff are rushed off their feet trying to attend to everyone’s needs. And an agency nurse taking charge of a ward for the night shift having never been on the ward before. And the bed system blocked because a specialist bed needed cleaning and there was a lack of staff to undertake the work. Consequently two patients couldn’t be moved into other beds and I was admitted to mine at midnight.
I’m not complaining. I’m very grateful to have been diagnosed and moved into treatment so rapidly. But the effect of insufficient staff and insufficient capacity for the increasing demand is there for all to see. And it’s not as if the increasing elderly population has occurred as a surprise. My generation wasn’t labelled the baby-boomers for nothing!
And then there’s the creeping privatisation;
I knew that many functions of our NHS have been out-sourced and privatised but I hadn’t realised the extent until my recent hospital visits. Here’s just one example:
One of the consultants referred me for a PET scan. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to produce detailed three-dimensional images of the inside of the body. The scan uses radio-active tracers in a special dye which is injected into a vein and absorbed into the body. The resulting images show if there are any cancer cells and where in the body they’re lurking.
In January 2015, a company called Alliance Medical won a ten-year NHS contract to provide PET scanning services across 30 locations in England. You can read Alliance Medical’s announcement of their new contract here. The contract NHS England gave to Alliance Medical wasn’t universally appreciated as this report in The Stoke Sentinel demonstrates.
I duly turned up for my PET scan which was undertaken in an Alliance Medical unit situated within our large regional hospital. Subsequently I googled Alliance Medical and discovered some additional information to that outlined above. On the Companies House website, Alliance Medical’s Annual Report and Financial Statement for 2016 show that the company is doing very nicely. On page 3 the report says that “The improved business performance during the year is as a result of the PET contract won by the Company at the end of 2015.” The company profit for the year amounted to £42.7 million and dividends were paid amounting to £105.5 million. In November 2016 Alliance Medical was sold to Life UK Healthcare for a reported $727 million.
We’ve gone a long way down the privatisation road since the Thatcher government introduced the contracting out of cleaning, laundry and catering services. Public money for private profit has always seemed wrong to me but my recent experiences have made me realise it’s gone way further than I ever imagined.
the asset stripping;
Do you know about the Naylor Report which the present government accepted prior to the recent General Election. That’s the report which advocates selling off to developers land owned by our NHS which is supposedly surplus to requirements. Valued between £1.8 and £2.7 billion the Naylor Report devotes a whole chapter to how our NHS could be encouraged and incentivised to flog off the estate because apparently there is reluctance in many areas to join in the sale of the century.
Are you familiar with the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan for your area? Do you remember voting for it? No, me neither! But whatever your local health authority is planning for your area is in its STP ( if you can find it and make any sense of it!)
And meanwhile the big corporates like Capita are queuing up to lend a helping hand.
The King’s Fund, together with the Health Foundation, have reported that the NHS surplus estate, which is immediately saleable, could be worth as much as £700 million. Department of Health data suggests more than 900 football pitches-worth of land owned by the NHS could also be surplus to requirements; the Surplus Land programme will seek to mobilise disposal and ensure capital receipts are realised for the health economy. There is clearly a need and an opportunity to reduce the existing estate, to release capacity for additional housing and complementary care facilities, but it needs to be done without adversely impacting services or patients.
You might like to check out the We Own It website and join their campaign to halt the privatisation of NHS Professionals, the in-house employment agency which saves our NHS millions of pounds each year.
and the ludicrous friends and family test.
Whoever was the idiot who thought up the friends and family test? I first came across it about a year ago when our GP’s surgery was going through an inspection. The practice nurse gave us an A5 postcard with the question “How likely are you to recommend our service to friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment?” The answer was a ranking from “extremely likely” to “extremely unlikely”. We filled the form in and added a comment thinking this was part of the inspection process as the nurse said it would be helpful to the surgery if the survey was completed.
Fair enough; not a very good way to construct a survey with a self-selecting set of respondents and such a subjective criteria but the sort of thing you expect from an inspection regime.
Except that the friends and family test isn’t just used during an inspection. Subsequently I’ve noticed the cards are available all the time at the GP’s surgery with a request to complete them on every visit. I’ve just looked up my current GP’s surgery and there is one – yes, one – rating. And the surgery we were attending during their inspection, despite their efforts to promote the survey, has 8 ratings.
However, it doesn’t stop there because hospital departments also use the survey and pursue responses with much greater diligence than the surgeries. In addition to the A5 card I’ve seen patients preparing for discharge from the ward presented with an iPad and asked to complete the survey on-line. Great! You’re about to go home after major surgery and you get that to contend with. The worst example was the telephone call I received the day after I’d met the consultant and received my cancer diagnosis. I recognised the telephone code and first numbers as a call from the hospital. My heart leapt! They’ve made a mistake I thought and are ringing to tell me it’s all been a bad dream. No, it was an automated message asking me to complete the friends and family survey. I slammed the phone down with some choice words only to hear the phone ringing again with the same request for an answer to the survey question. Tactless and insensitive, or what? An administrator hands out the A5 card in the chemotherapy unit. Would you recommend our service to your family and friends? Yes, of course I would if they needed it. You’re doing a great job. But right at this minute, I just want to go home.
This is not the way to collect information about the effectiveness of our NHS. This really is bureaucracy gone mad. The survey can’t possibly provide accurate or useful data. It’s just a tick box exercise that generates some numbers that can only be worthless. It’s a cheap and crude tool that does no good to anyone important i.e the patients or the staff. I don’t blame the admin staff: they’re only doing the work they’ve been given by management. But management at the highest level should re-think this one and in my opinion, scrap it.
I’m grateful to my dad and both my sets of grandparents for voting Labour in 1945 to get our NHS started.
(My mum wasn’t old enough to vote in 1945 as she wasn’t twenty one, the voting age at the time. But if she’d been able she would have voted for Labour’s NHS too.)
Huffington Post published a good blogpost on July 5th with five mind-blowing facts about our NHS. I’m sure there are some aspects of our NHS that past generations wouldn’t recognise. But the core principle that our NHS is a public, not-for-profit service free to all when needed remains the same to this day. And hopefully enough people in NHS campaigning and support groups, the Labour Party and the voting public will keep up the pressure on the government to keep it that way.
A belated Happy 69th Birthday to our NHS and I hope I’m still here next year to celebrate the 70th anniversary. Meanwhile here’s a clip from the 2012 Olympics tribute to our wonderful NHS.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
And thanks for the blog comments, Twitter messages and emails offering me support and encouragement. I had my blood tests this morning and am expecting to start my second cycle of chemotherapy tomorrow. So, when you’re eating lunch I’ll probably be getting another prickly bottom!
A friendly, smiling receptionist checks me in. “Hello Catherine, and how are you feeling today? It’s your first time, isn’t it? I’ll go and see if they’re ready for you.”
I follow a nurse into the treatment room.
A blur of impressions.
Soft lighting through large windows looking over a shady garden.
Pale blue seats.
There are eight places and all but one is occupied.
“That’s your chair over there. Take a seat, we’ll be with you in a minute.”
The seats are close together with minimal privacy.
A woman in a woolly tea cosy hat smiles kindly.
A man’s eyes are closed as he listens to something on headphones.
The occupant of each seat is hooked up to an intravenous drip.
I move over to my designated place.
The man in the next chair is reading a motoring magazine. He’s still there when we leave four hours later. Still reading the same magazine.
A familiar face.
Six weeks ago I had a few emergency days in hospital. A woman was admitted into the ward for urgent treatment. She told me she was to start chemotherapy the following week. Earlier that same day she’d been to choose a wig. We recognise each other and exchange a few words. Her hair looks nice.
I look for somewhere to put my bag and sit down. After a couple of minutes a nurse introduces herself and sits in front of me.
“We just need to check your details. Do you prefer to be called Catherine? Please confirm your surname and date of birth.”
Yes, I do prefer Catherine. Since I started this journey I’ve reverted to the name I was given at my christening, a name I abandoned when I was about thirteen. As a teenager I was Katie or Kate and since leaving college I’ve always been Cath or Cathy. I thought Catherine was too old fashioned, too long-winded and meaning “pure” it hardly fitted with the Swinging Sixties and summer lovin’ Seventies.
Funny how Kate Middleton has been re-branded as Princess Catherine.
The nurse fixes a cannula into my hand and starts checking the drugs.
I’m having one day of intravenous in hospital and fourteen days of tablets at home.
There seem to be rather a lot of tablets. I don’t usually do pills apart from the odd paracetamol. The nurses count out the tablets and replace them in the boxes. They load the IV bags onto the drip stand, checking and checking again.
Another nurse asks if anyone is with me. Michael is in the family and friends waiting room. She brings Michael into the treatment room and he sits down next to me. We hold hands.
My nurse is talking about potential side effects. We’ve been told about these at the pre-treatment interview. And we’ve read the leaflets and visited the website but it’s helpful to hear about them again.
The nurse reminds us that first I’m to have a drug to counteract nausea and vomiting. She starts the drip. After a few seconds she explains that for some patients this drug has a peculiar side effect. “Many patients say it feels like a prickly bottom.” There is a frisson in the room. Eyes are raised and the other patients are discreetly looking over. Clearly they know what the nurse is talking about. A few moments later so do I. Now I understand what a hedgehog must feel like every day! A drug induced smile covers my face and the strange sensation continues. Other patients smile and the moment passes.
Changing the IV bags, the nurse starts my treatment. The drug is Oxy-something-or-other. I struggle to remember its name. The bag has been in the fridge and my arm quickly starts to chill as the drug gets into my system. It’s going to take a couple of hours to administer. We try to read but can’t concentrate.
A couple of patients go as their treatment ends and others come to take their places. The woman I met previously leaves and we say goodbye with best wishes for the future. I wonder if our paths will cross again.
The hands of the clock on the wall opposite move erratically. A few minutes pass and then the hands stand still. Beeps from a drip announce another treatment is complete. And then my drip starts beeping and its time to disconnect and get ready to go home.
Thanks for reading my blog today even though you can’t share a prickly bottom! And for all the messages of support after I wrote Don’t leave it too late – many thanks too.
Readers are still leaving lovely reviews for Cabbage and Semolina and it’s very pleasing to know that so many people have enjoyed reading my book. There’s also a great review of Cabbage and Semolina on a blog called Georgia Rose Books. Georgia Rose is the author of The Grayson Trilogy, a romance thriller fusion and an enjoyable summer holiday read. I was delighted to read Georgia’s review of my book and am honoured to be included in her collection of books that she’s enjoyed reading.
At the end of Cabbage and Semolina I wrote:
Thank you for reading Cabbage and Semolina. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my memories whether you’re of the same generation as me or older or younger. And I hope I’ve inspired you to record and share some of your own memories too. Don’t leave it too late; you never know what’s round the corner.
And my experiences in the last couple of months have made that last sentence ring out loud and true. Today I’m not just talking about recording your memories. I mean don’t leave it too late for whatever it is in life that you want to experience or accomplish. You definitely don’t know what’s round the corner!
This morning I went for a pre-treatment assessment for chemotherapy. Two months ago I was a fit and healthy sixty-something year old. During the last eight weeks I’ve been in A&E at my local District hospital and spent a few days in the same hospital being scanned and tested before a transfer to the specialist regional hospital for more scans and more tests. And now I find myself back at the District hospital about to embark on twenty four weeks of chemotherapy.
This might be a shock for you to read and believe me it’s been a shock for me and my nearest and dearest to start to understand. I’ve received considerable support from the Macmillan nurses at the local hospital who’ve provided plenty of supportive booklets, a very informative website and lots of personalised advice. One thing I read was that some people are helped to live with cancer by writing about their experiences. One suggestion was to write a blog and as I’ve already got a blog and I enjoy blogpost writing I’m going to try that too. I’ll tell you more another day but meanwhile I need to get ready for tomorrow and get some new books onto my Kindle – it’s going to be a long day!
After my diagnosis someone asked me if I had a bucket list and I was pleased to say I didn’t. I haven’t got any burning desire to go bungee jumping, travel across the Sahara or learn how to shear a sheep. But if you have, then my advice is to get on with it! Don’t put it off and then find out that it’s too late to translate your great ambition into action: just go for it! (Cash or overdraft permitting, of course.) What do you think?