The snow may not be sparkling on our streets but it is certainly floating down on our television screens and while some of you may be already tiring of Christmas Carols on a tape loop in the department stores, there is more than enough of the Advent Season to send a shiver down the spine and to put a smile on the face of the most miserable.
In all the years I spent working in the National Health Service I came to love working at Christmas. Admittedly I didn’t have children then and as my wife was a nurse who also worked at the Middlesex Hospital we were happy to take on the holiday season shifts to allow colleagues to spend some time under the tree with their families.
Patients may have winced as this porter pushed their trolley through the corridors of the Middlesex while wearing a paper hat and a silly grin but most people seemed pleased to join in with a bit of seasonal jollity and there was always a sense of camaraderie between us ancillary workers and the nurses, medics and catering staff in the hospital and the police and paramedics who appeared with increasing frequency in Casualty.
None of us would have thought for a moment that our beloved Middlesex Hospital would now be a hole in the ground or that our local services in Ealing would be shrinking before our eyes. The very idea of an Urgent Care Centre replacing A&E would have seemed ridiculous and the prospect of the place where my wife went on to work as a sister on a cancer ward, Charing Cross, being flogged off to property speculators and hedge fund spivs would have seemed nothing less than a bitter, sick joke.
I actually accept that change is inevitable and the concentration of stroke services on fewer sites has been a great success and has actually confounded my initial misgivings and proved to be a life saver. Even allowing for that I cannot help but look at the devastation that has been wrought on our local health services and feel the Christmas spirit draining away.
All current indicators point towards a severe worsening in the service provided at Ealing Hospital. I have a natural disinclination to alarmism but this is beyond paranoia and in the realm of real and present danger.
The revelation that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has so little confidence in GP provision that he took his children to A&E over the weekend does not fill me with confidence and I shudder to think what might be our fate here in Ealing if we suffer from what are known as “winter pressures” or when we experience outbreaks of influenza or, God forbid, a serious road or rail accident.
I’m lucky enough to have a truly excellent GP and anyone who can keep me upright and compos mentis deserves a medal at the very least but I am really seriously worried about Ealing Hospital. I went in for an x-ray the other day and was seen promptly and efficiently with the greatest of courtesy and professionalism but everyone I spoke to was desperately anxious about the future. Not their personal future but that of the hospital.
We face a general election in a few months and, quite rightly, the National Health Service will be front and centre in the campaign and certainly in the debates before polling day on May 7th. I'm not going to get all political on you and I always respect any individual’s decision to cast their vote however they choose. All I ask is that you think about the NHS in the next few months and ask those who are asking for your vote what they will do to earn it where the NHS is concerned.
It wouldn’t do any harm to say thanks to the people who are running our health service on behalf of all of us. If you’re visiting anyone at Ealing why not bring a card or a little something for the staff and I hope that you pop in to the truly excellent League of Friends café for a cup of something warm and cheering and a chat with the volunteers who prove their support for our NHS in the best and most practical way.
We are all immensely grateful to everyone working in the health service in our part of the world and I know that we all wish them the very best of the season and warmest greetings to their friends and families. When they come off shift and head for home there may well be a light dusting of snow on the streets and there will certainly be lights twinkling in the windows and in some cases illuminations blazing out over the whole house.
I want the NHS workers to come home to a warm welcome but, above all, I want them to look forward to a New Year free of the awful anxiety that besets us at the moment. That would be the best possible Christmas present for us all!