The National Health Service is something we can be proud of in the UK. It was set up after the second world war to provide universal health care, free at the point of delivery, accessible to all according to need, not bank balance.
When this principle was watered down by the Thatcher government to allow the rich to jump to the front of the line, doctors quite naturally followed the money, and now it’s received wisdom that if you want to get treated quickly and cleanly you go private. In other words you take out additional health insurance as they do in America.
The last time I needed to consult a doctor I had a small wound on my temple about the size of a nail head that wouldn’t heal. I didn’t know where it had come from. I couldn’t remember injuring myself there. It was a mystery wound.
I decided the prudent thing would be to ignore it and hope it went away. But my wife had other ideas, and the next day I went to see the doctor.
She told me it was probably a blood vessel too close to the skin that needed cauterizing, and she set me up an appointment with a dermatologist – whose first name, according to his nameplate, was Dermot.
Dermot the dermatologist.
While he examined my head I felt the urge to make pointless conversation, as you do.
“Bit of a coincidence, that. You’re a dermatologist and your name is Dermot.”
“This may surprise you, but you’re not the first person to have pointed that out.”
“Can I call you Dermot?”
“You can call me what you like.”
“How about Shirley?”
He ignored this, and finished the examination.
“Well, Doc, what is it?”
“Let me put it like this, what’s your star sign?”
“We can all have our little jokes, Mr Condell. Don’t worry, it won’t spread, but it is a form of skin cancer – what we call a rodent ulcer, or a basal cell carcinoma. It’s caused by excessive exposure to sun in earlier life. Have you ever spent a lot of time in the sun?”
I certainly had, back in the days when sunshine was good for you and we soaked up as much of it as we could get, little dreaming that one day it would be as dangerous as coffee, alcohol, food, water and air.
Anyway, I’ve seen all the medical dramas, so I was straight in with the pointed questions.
“So er… er… what are my options?”
“Well, you could simply leave it there to rot into your head, which might work as a conversation starter, or you could do what most people do and have it removed.”
“With a knife?”
“Couldn’t you do it with a laser, or a damp cloth or something?”
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing. Local anaesthetic. Chop chop, couple of stitches, ten minutes tops.”
“Technical term. Do you have medical insurance?”
“Yeah, it’s called the National Health Service.”
He laughed like an executioner.
“That one always makes me chuckle. OK, I’ll add your name to the waiting list, but it’s likely to be a few months. However, if you’d care to have it done privately I could fit you in this week.”
Now we were getting down to business.
“Five hundred pounds.”
“Hold on. Ten minutes tops – five hundred pounds?”
“That’s for my time and the hire of the operating theatre. Anaesthetic would be extra. You’d want anaesthetic, I take it?”
“Why not? Let’s push the boat out.”
“That’ll be another thirty-five. Then you’ll have to have the stitches out, plus my initial consultation. To be honest, you’re looking at more like six-fifty all told. Also, I should warn you there will be some scarring, but I’ll do my best to make the scar fit in with the other lines on your head.”
“Thank you Dr Schweitzer, you’re a saint. Here’s my credit card.“
So a couple of days later I went in. Chop chop, couple of stitches, ten minutes tops. Ch-ching!!!
The following day a letter arrived from the NHS offering me an immediate appointment to have it done for nothing. I felt like slapping myself all around the room and then kicking myself all the way back again, but I couldn’t disturb the stitches, so I didn’t even have that pleasure.