Cool Brittania: The Good, The Bad - And The Utterly Sublime!

Posted at 18:17pm on 28th September 2008


The Good News is that we have a National Health Service at all! Even better are the advances made in medical science, which mean that conditions like Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) can be treated. Best of all is that there are courageous people out there who fight unfair decisions by NICE (a misnomer if ever there was one in this case), the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, whose job it is to decide who gets what and when – if indeed they get anything at all!

So when we heard that NICE had been forced to rethink their policy of refusing to treat AMD on the NHS (hope you’re following here!) great was the rejoicing in our household. Or at least, that of my parents. My father, you see, was diagnosed two or three years ago with the condition in one eye. The guiding principle at the time was that you had to go blind in the first eye before the NHS would treat the other. Nice that, isn’t it?


My father is 94, my mother nearly 90. By the time the second eye was affected, the first was untreatable. Too much scarring on the retina, we were told. The second eye was also untreatable for the reasons given above. Not the right disease. Therefore no treatment.

Now to my mind, eyesight should be a simple matter of Human Rights. If it can be treated it should be. When you think of all the nose-jobs and tummy-tucks that are paid for by the NHS – well, it’s elementary, isn’t it?

Not, it would appear, in the minds of our dear government. So my mother, a recent cancer-survivor, who has to do all the caring and the driving, started doling out regular, and not inconsiderable, sums of money in order that my father might have injections into the unscarred eye to save the peripheral vision. It has meant frequent long and tiring journeys from their rural home into the city, thousands of pounds paid out to consultants, and (a first) three penalty points on her driving licence for doing 39 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone. (This, I think, has been far more upsetting to her than the thousands of pounds she’s spent).

When I tell you that my father was both an intellectual (a member of MENSA) and an amateur artist, you will understand why he became so depressed at losing his sight. Dragging him from his bed each day is no mean feat. With deafness from flying during WW2 to defend all those nice bods on the NICE committee, and dementia setting in, what has he to get up for?

So I was delighted when we managed to secure an appointment for a second opinion. What a wonderful institution is the NHS, I thought. Wrong! We sat – along with several dozen patients – in a corridor-waiting-area for six-and-a-half hours! Yes. You read that right. Trouble is that although NICE have decided that AMD may be treated after all, it appears to be up to each Primary Care Trust (PCT) to have the last word. And whilst all the people from our County were awaiting their appointments, so, too, were all those from the adjoining County, whose PCT had refused to treat them. Our PCT is, therefore, swamped.


Still, as I reminded my parents whilst our feet swung from those excruciatingly high and hard benches in the waiting area, we might have been born in Africa and have had to walk through swamps or jungles for two days – only to find that there was no treatment available. Well – you have to keep things in perspective don’t you?

And while doing so, we mustn’t forget the faultlessly cheerful and caring nursing profession that is the mainstay of an NHS which, despite everything, we can still feel proud of. Pity we had to learn that my father's second eye is now also so badly scarred that treatment would achieve nothing.


At the end of a week of raised and dashed hopes, my other half and I went to London yesterday on business – the AGM of the publishing company for which we job-share. What a brilliant rail network we have – when it works. Our journey up and back was paid for by the refund we had on the last business trip to Town, when we had to phone ahead to the Directors (who had congregated in the West End from all over the country) to tell them that our train was over an hour late.

On this occasion, we completed our journey in little over two hours each way. And on the way home were treated to one of many awe-inspiring views on our doorstep: the rippled-glass effect and ochre marshlands of the River Exe, where wading birds abound, and red deer graze the grasslands. Then round the corner to, last night, a diamante sea, waves slopping on seashore, anglers picked out against the red cliffs and blush skies. Right again, and up the second river, the turquoise Teign with bobbing boats and swooping bridges, the train pacing itself for the last stretch to what, in local-parlance, is God’s Own Country.

Who says its all doom and gloom in Britain? With all of that to come home to, who could want for anything more? Sounds like a good line for a song, that.


Today’s paper says that MFI (a flat-pack furniture company) is collapsing. Tell me, is that the kitchen cupboards flying off the wall, or the bedroom fittings falling down on the floor?

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