Health Care Horror Stories Just in Time for Halloween

Fifty years ago, the British inflicted themselves with a monstrosity called the National Health Service. They dressed it up to look like an angel of mercy, but over the years that mask has been worn away to reveal a bit of a cold-blooded beast. Now, just in time for Halloween,   Obama and Co. are putting a disguise on their own beast.  Since it is the time of year for spooky stories, here are some culled from the recent archives of Britain’s health care system. Be forewarned. Some of this stuff is not for the faint of heart.  

Case #1
: An Iraqi vet from Stroke-on-Trent died last year. He had an incurable lung condition and needed a double transplant. NHS doctors in Cambridge put two “new” lungs in the soldier. According to their story, they missed diagnosing a tumor in one of the donor lungs which grew and spread when the soldier-recipient was given anti-rejection drugs.  The problem was no one seems to have investigated the donor’s smoking habits.  He rolled his own between 30 and 50 times a day.  

Case #2: A grandfather who had beaten cancer was informed  by his NHS doctor  that the cancer had returned.   The 76-year-old patient was told his condition was terminal, so they moved him to one of the NHS hospices which specialized in implementing the “death pathway” procedure for elderly folks deemed to have outlived their usefulness. The grandfather was denied food, water and any medication except painkillers.  He died after two weeks in the hospice. Alas, his post mortem proved his cancer had not returned.  He only had a chest infection.  

Case #3: Mr.  D. Gray, a 70 -year-old pensioner, was complaining of kidney pain when a Doctor Ubani saw him. Dr. Ubani is one of many foreign doctors who have been brought in to fill gaps in the ranks of NHS physicians, especially in after hour and weekend care. Dr. Ubani had just completed his two hours of required training in the UK, had no GP experience whatsoever, and said he was tired at the end of his first shift on duty. That was how he came to give D. Gray a fatal overdose or morphine, a drug Dr. Ubani later admitted he had no knowledge of.   

After Mr. Gray’s death his son, Dr. Stuart Gray, lobbied for more stringent vetting procedures for imported physicians and suggested that the ability to speak good English ought to be a gating factor. The “Quality Care Commission” allowed as how they might need to tighten up policies on hiring overseas doctors, confessing that this tended to be “a widespread problem.”  No kidding.   In another incident, teams of doctors were brought in from Sweden, Denmark and Iceland to perform knee replacement surgeries on hundreds of people. These folks had been on one of the NHS’s interminable waiting lists and the NHS wanted to clear the backlog.  The records show that one in five of those patients  had to have their knee replacements replaced because of physician errors.  

Of course, this is not to imply that one should only avoid foreign doctors in the NHS system.   Britain’s most notorious serial killer was a home-grown NHS doctor. A decade ago, Dr. Harold Shipman came to public attention when he was brought up on charges of having — quietly and efficiently over many years — killed 15 of his patients. By the time the investigations into this madman’s practice was over, he had made history. A four year government inquiry was subsequently held to discover how one doctor could get away with committing 215 murders and not raise any flags within the system. On February 12, 2009  documentary film maker, Ann Alexander, explored whether necessary changes had, in fact, been made.  Her program title — “Could Shipman Happen Again?” — indicates her findings., although Alexander did note that the police are “now more willing to accept that a health care professional might harm.”  But what of the professionals themselves? Alexander taped an interview with Laurence Buckman, chairman of the GP’s Committee for the British Medical Association, in which he remarked that it was “challenging to persuade the profession that improving standards of patient care is something doctors not just have to do — they should want to.”   

Now that raises the question of why doctors in a national health care system do not care about improving the standards of patient care. Why are the number of hospitals which get excellent ratings in decline, while those in the “double weak” category are on the rise?

Perhaps it is because — just as Americans cannot sue the government — NHS patients in Britain are not allowed to sue their government-provided doctors. No, instead they must go through a series of bureaucratic procedures which are a real nightmare. An NHS website instructs that all Trusts and Primary Care Trusts have a complaints manager who can advise you about making a complaint.  If you’re not sure who to contact…. you can get details in the online services directory, or by looking in the phone book.   “If you make a verbal complaint, a member of staff should record your complaint in writing,” the website instructs, adding  “they should give you a copy of this written record, or send one to you.”  “Your complaint should be answered within six months.”   Or one can refer a complaint to yet another bureaucracy, the Parliamentary and Health Services Omsbudsman and good luck to you.  If the doctors haven’t killed you, the paperwork will.

Might a change of hands at Number Ten Downing Street herald a difference in this situation? No.  David Cameron has promised to keep the NHS beast on life support.  

If you are not scared by now about what may be coming to a hospital or doctor’s office near you, someone from the ACORN office on Elm Street will be coming to your house to sign you up for a single payer plan… unless you want to register at another of the designated locations mentioned in the Baucas Bill.  The Department of Motor Vehicles.  (Insert scream here).