Posted by: Witch Doctor | August 31, 2009

The Patients Association and My Mum


I am unsure whether I was poor or rich as a child.

I felt rich, but on looking back I think I might have been poor because of what my mother taught me.

It concerned priorities regarding the allocation of resources in times of need.

“You bake the cake of health first and only then do you ice it – but only if you can afford to”

She seemed always to be busy with the baking, but not the icing. That is why I think we must have been poor.

1. Food and water – top of the list – Invalids, children and animals to be fed first since they cannot fend for themselves (we had no invalids but my mother had a great love of animals and would stay up all night nursing wounded sparrows and stray cats back to health. She would have been devoted to My Black Cat and spoiled her rotten). Soup, porridge, mince, mashed potatoes, chips, more soup, custard, home-grown fruit and vegetables and even more soup featured a lot. We were well fed.

2. Warmth – that meant coal fires. My mother seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time chasing after coalmen and discussing the price of a bag of coal with the neighbours (6/11d was extortionate!). In winter, she would carry a shovel full of hot cinders upstairs to start off the bedroom fires. I can to this day remember the smell of burning wool when one of the cinders fell off the shovel on to the stair carpet. It was a warm, friendly, winter smell. The round holes in the carpet were friendly too. I remember one bitterly cold New Years Eve tagging along behind her with a pram full of coal from a neighbour because the coalman let her down. To this day I can remember his name. It was “Chesney the Bad Coalman.” She changed her coalman to “ Wallace the Good Coalman.” Knitting cardigans from ripped out wool featured strongly in the evenings and of course, later on, there was The Sewing Machine. And stone hot water bottles. -“the rubber ones might burst and scald you”


3. Cleanliness and hygiene – My mother was not house-proud in any way. She left that to the neighbours. She was much happier in the garden planting and digging up potatoes wearing an old cardigan and wellies. However, she seemingly had an innate ability to distinguish between clean dirt and dirty dirt. The former was OK. The latter was given high priority.

The above were considered the foundations for a healthy life – that, and a spoonful of malt out a big fat brown bottle every morning of course. My father did not participate in this exercise. He had something called “Emulsion” out of a thin oblong brown bottle every morning. To this day I do not know what “Emulsion’ was. These were the prophylactics. Any ailment that managed to struggle through “the prophylactics” was treated with Syrup of Figs and white cornflour pudding (not together). For some reason, my mother herself shunned this therapy for her own afflictions and preferred to take half an aspirin. Always a half. For everything. Never one or two. God forbid, that would have been an overdose.

Exercise was so much part of daily living that it didn’t feature at all in my mother’s list of priorities for a healthy life.

The Patients Association document “Patients….. not numbers, People….. not statistics” essentially gives accounts of the shocking neglect 16 patients received within the NHS and tries to extrapolate not from this, but by using information from elsewhere. That extrapolation, the finger of blame being pointed unfairly at the nursing profession and the suspicion of a possible conflict of interest with private medicine, is what is causing all the fuss.

I have seen all this neglect before.

Mistakes will always happen, but neglect never should.

Neglect is occurring because the NHS is not addressing the modern day equivalent of my mother’s fundamental priorities.

It would be very easy to do.

It used to do so.

It is not rocket science.

But it is not doing it now.

That is the problem.

Why not?

You have to ask yourself “why not?”

Is it because there are other priorities?

Is there a reason for icing an unbaked cake?


Patient neglect always makes harrowing reading. However here is one quote from the document that is baffling rather than harrowing to relatives.

“ There were other simpler issues. There was no clock in the bay my mother stayed in. another elderly lady staying in the bay frequently voiced she was confused about what time it was. When I mentioned this as a minor side issue to a nurse I found their explanation baffling. The nurse said clocks aren’t put onto wards as it is more confusing for patients if they show the wrong time”.

How very NHS!

How very lack of simple maintenance.


Neither the neglect of the modern day equivalent of my mother’s priorities nor absent / wonky clocks needs a glossy document, an inquiry, a committee, “The patient experience” jargon or an inspection.

These are diversions that all cost money.

Everyone knows what to do and how to do it.

Honestly, they do.

It just needs to be done.

Up and down the land neglect can and must be sorted out today.

Just like that.



Tomorrow’s priority should be errors – a rather different matter.

P.S. Coal is a commodity. Patients are not.

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