By Dr. W. Gifford Jones
November 16, 2004
"Why must I wait so long for a cataract operation?" a reader asks. Another angrily decries that her mother had to die in agony from terminal cancer. This past year I've received an increasing number of letters from readers dealing with such problems. But during a recent trip to Oxford University, England, I noticed a bus advertisement that suggested a way to solve these dilemmas.
The bus ad read, "Now you can have the hospital you've always wanted". Since there's so much debate in this country about our deteriorating hospital system, I couldn't resist calling the number on the bus and visiting Acland Hospital.
I was surprised to find that Acland Hospital in Oxford was merely one of 45 Nuffield "private hospitals" in England. Staff added that there were hundreds of other private hospitals scattered throughout the country. Rather than being shut down by the British Labour Government, private hospitals were expanding. What a startling change from the situation in Canada!
Equally surprising, these hospitals are not just for the rich. I was advised that many labour unions now insist, as part of their contract, on employees being cared for in private hospitals.
How does Acland hospital survive? The day I visited surgeons were performing cataract operations and being charged for the amount of time they spent in the surgery. And those seeing patients were again charged for the amount of time spent consulting.
Not all people have private health insurance. I talked with one elderly man at Oxford University who didn't want to wait in line for months to have varicose veins treated. So he bought a "package" that paid for his hospital stay and the surgeon's fee. He was pleased this option was available.
The town of Tetbury provided another example of British ingenuity. The government decided to close the local hospital that had provided services since 1869. So an aroused community raised three million dollars and changed it into a private hospital. They now charge doctors for operating time and office space, and volunteers aid the medical staff. And by accepting patients from other areas they're helping to ease the overburdened National Health System. I think one could justifiably argue that it's high time for a little ingenuity in this country.
I couldn't resist checking on the current status of heroin in England for treating terminal cancer pain. Readers may recall that 20 years ago I conducted a campaign to legalize this potent painkiller. It has been used successfully in England for over a hundred years and it seemed a humanitarian act to have this painkiller available in Canada.
Opponents of heroin immediately labeled me a "headline seeking medical journalist". They argued that morphine is as good as heroin, which is unmitigated nonsense. They argued that addicts would break into hospitals to obtain supplies when this has never been a problem in England. But in spite of the opposition of the Cancer Society, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Hospital Pharmacists heroin was legalized in Canada.
It was a battle won and a war lost. So much needless red tape resulted in doctors not using it. Finally the pharmaceutical company, due to lack of use, stopped importing heroin from England.
I visited the Churchill Hospital palliative centre in Oxford and other areas and heroin in still used, effectively treating cancer patients. It's a tragedy that what has been called "God's own painkiller" is not available in this country.
One further thought. When I read the newspaper I often wonder why there's such a lack of common sense in this country.
But during my stay in London I read about a convict who had killed a man by stabbing him 50 times. Now in prison he has swapped jeans and shirts for stylish women's clothes and wears gaudy makeup. He's also created a storm of public protest by demanding 32,000 pounds for a sex-change operation. He's already started electrolysis treatment to remove excess hair along with female hormone treatment in preparation for surgery.
The shocker is that under the Prison Service rules inmates are permitted to change sex and have the National Health System pay for it. I find it reassuring that all the insanity is not confined to Canada.
W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is: Docgiff.com
My book, �90 + How I Got There� can be obtained by sending $19.95 to:
Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Unit # 6,Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1Pre-2008 articles by Gifford Jones