Daily Mail

Why I’m terrified to leave the house this Christmas

(and no, it’s not Covid...)

- Follow: @whjm

INever thought I might need to lock myself down at Christmas this year, just as I did during the pandemic, even though I’m jabbed to the eyeballs and no risk to any of my family. I’m not scared of Covid or flu, but I am afraid of all the other things that could occur to someone of my age. What happens if fall and I’m on my own? What do I do if I have a heart attack or a stroke?

With everyone from nurses to 999 call handlers, paramedics, porters and cleaners threatenin­g to strike next month, I’m tempted to go nowhere and do nothing. Stock up on provisions, be grateful for the new downstairs loo, avoid steps whenever possible, pick up all the rugs over which I could trip and tell the dogs a walk is out of the question — they’ll have to make do with the garden.

Self-preservati­on must be my new watchword.

There are so many of us who remember, with grateful affection, the days when trust in the NHS was absolute.

A ton of worry was lifted from the shoulders of our parents. They and their mothers and fathers had not had the reassuranc­e of healthcare that was free at the point of delivery. They had struggled to find the money to pay the doctor to treat whatever ailment they suffered from. W OMEN

in particular often let things slide, hoping they would get better without interventi­on and saving up whatever cash they had in case the man of the house needed to get help. A sick breadwinne­r was unthinkabl­e.

Things were so different for me, born in 1950 — only two years after the NHS was founded.

As a child I recall falling out of a tree and hurting myself badly. mum rushed to the phone box — we had no phone at home — and within minutes an ambulance arrived and my broken bones were treated speedily in casualty.

When I developed a rash and a raging temperatur­e, the GP came straight to the house. It was measles in the days before a vaccine. It could have killed me. The GP and the district nurse came every day until I began to improve.

Not any more. Just as my generation, the first to benefit from the NHS, reaches the age we will need reliable healthcare most, we no longer trust that we will get it.

I and the majority of my contempora­ries are terrified of what we might face if strikes go ahead this winter. even without strikes, we all know how tough it is to get the help we need.

It’s rare to hear anyone say how pleased they were to get an appointmen­t with their GP.

my local Nextdoor app is awash with stories of potential patients calling at 8am; being told they are 48th in the queue; hanging on; and then finally hearing a real voice telling them they could have a phone appointmen­t in three weeks’ time or a face-to-face one at the end of December. Home visits appear to not exist any more.

In 2014, returning from work in the early afternoon, I slipped on my icy front step. my handbag and phone flew across the garden, so I had no means of making contact. my arm was so painful I couldn’t get up.

I lay on the icy ground for about three quarters of an hour, unable to move, until a neighbour walking by heard me shouting ‘Help!’ She and her husband got me into the house. I called my son rather than an ambulance — anxious even then that it would take for ever — and he drove me to hospital.

A long, agonising wait; broken humerus; a week’s wait before the decision to operate; a couple of months of needing family help to function; and I still can’t use that arm properly.

Suppose that happened this Christmas during a strike? No ambulances, no nurses, no porter to take me for a scan, a dirty ward with no cleaners. Truly terrifying.

This past weekend I stayed with one of my oldest friends in Bristol. She’d tripped four weeks ago and demolished her femur. A St John Ambulance picked her up. She spent a couple of days in hospital after major surgery, then home, helpless and paying for physio. Her husband is exhausted from the strain of it all.

So, come on, Steve Barclay and Jeremy Hunt. Pay decent wages. Train more doctors and nurses. enable qualified immigrants to get jobs. Cut back the top-heavy bureaucrac­y and the unnecessar­y, highly paid management, and invest, invest, invest in social care. Clear the beds occupied by people who are well enough to go home but have no one to care for them.

I have no intention of getting caught in what Adrian Boyle, president of the royal College of emergency medicine, referred to in the mail this week as the NHS ‘lobster trap’ — hospitals that are easy to get into but hard to get out of. Dr Boyle admitted that he is desperate to keep his own elderly relatives out of hospital.

I am desperate to keep myself out of hospital, but I’d prefer to do it without being too afraid to leave my home this Christmas.

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