Time for radical change to shift power to patients

It’s not looking good. It would be nice to think that things are getting better, but they’re really not looking good. More and more of us are getting dementia, and cancer, and diabetes, and more and more of us are getting dangerously fat. Even in a world where there was plenty of money to throw at a problem, this would be quite a problem. But in the world we face it’s looking much more like a bomb that’s going to explode.

It would be nice to think that the 467-page Act that the government has forced through on health and social care will address the problem, but it won’t. What we need in health is a change that’s much more radical than this. What we need in health is a very, very, very big change in the relationship between people who get ill (which is all of us at some point) and the people who are meant to make them better when they do.

At the moment, the relationship is a bit like a bad one between a parent and a child. The child is the kind of child who eats what he likes, and drinks what he likes, and sometimes nicks a bottle from the back of a kitchen cupboard, and sometimes nicks a fag. The parent is one who also eats what he likes, also likes a fag, and who doesn’t do any exercise, and is a bit tired and cross. The parent will see the child if he has to. He’ll make an appointment (at a time that suits him and not the child) and then pass him on to somebody else. And then he’ll send him to a hospital, because hospitals are what you need to heal the sick.

Hospitals aren’t what you need to heal the sick. Hospitals are where you go when you need to have a tumour cut out, or to have a blood vessel moved from one bit of a heart to another bit of a heart, or if you’ve got an infection that needs to be monitored all day and all night. But hospitals aren’t much good if you’ve got dementia, or diabetes, or smoke a lot, or if you’re just very fat.

What sick people need is a partnership. We need to have a relationship with our doctor, or a ‘nurse practitioner’ at a local health centre, who we see before we get ill. We need to work, with that doctor, or that nurse, on developing plans to keep us well. We need to be able to look at those plans, and at our progress, and at our medical records, online. We need to be able to email that doctor, or nurse, to ask questions and get advice. And when we need to see him, or her, we need to be able to make an appointment online, and at a time that fits in with our work. Since many of us have to work evenings and weekends, we will expect the people who are in partnership with us (in doctors’ surgeries, and health centres, and hospitals) to work evenings and weekends, too.

What we will expect in this partnership is a relationship that works both ways. We will expect to do more to keep ourselves well. We will expect the health service to provide better systems to help us when we’re not. We will, for example, expect phone calls and emails to be answered, and appointments to be fixed in good time, and files, and X-rays, and blood test results (which will now be stored, with our records, in a ‘health cloud’ we can access) not to be lost. We will expect to be treated like an adult, and spoken to like an adult, and we will not expect anyone to treat us as if their time was more precious than ours.

And if we have to go into hospital to have an operation, as I have had to do six times in the past eight years, we will expect the staff to treat us in the same way they would treat their mother, or friend, or child. We will expect them to remember that they are doing these jobs because they chose to do these jobs, and that we didn’t choose to be ill. We will, in other words, expect the people who look after us, when we’re at a low point in our lives, to do the jobs they were employed to do, and also, though you shouldn’t have to say it, to be kind.

Christina Patterson is a writer and columnist at the Independent. She has written widely about her experiences as a breast cancer patient, and has campaigned to improve standards in nursing.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

@queenchristina_