Patients in middle age are to be offered an NHS health check every five years, Gordon Brown will announce today. By 2012, everyone aged 40 to 74 will be entitled to free checks to assess their risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease as part of an extension of patients’ rights being proposed by the Government.
I hope you don't mind if I politely decline your offer, Gordon, and suggest that you poke your health checks somewhere snug - sideways. Is that OK with you, chummy?
Now, apart from the obvious question as to why these checks are emphasised as being 'free' in a health service which, as they sell it to us, is very much supposed to be exactly that anyway - how are these checks going to be any different from the usual NHS interactions which I have been avoiding for quite a while now**?
Appointments would generally go something like this:
Doc: (head down, writing notes) So what's the problem?
DP: I've an ingrowing toenail/aching elbow/itchy knob (delete as applicable).
Doc: (not looking up) Do you smoke?
DP: Yes, but ...
Doc: (still not looking up) You shouldn't. It's bad for your health ... (nag for a bit, throw in a few scare stats)
DP: Well, I ...
Doc: (still no eye contact) Here's a prescription for antibiotics. Take twice daily. See the receptionist on your way out for the local smoking cessation service. Good day.
I pay around £4k pa for this exceptional level of 'free' service, a service I no longer use due to the tiresome finger-wagging and hectoring involved, as well as the generally poor reception afforded.
I've tried hinting that the Doc should keep his/her nose out, pointed out that doctors kill quite a few themselves, that sort of thing, all to no avail. So I don't have a regular check up routine anymore.
The last time I was made to, reluctantly, use the NHS was for a compulsory medical related to a licence I needed, as part of this government's policy of requiring us to ask their permission before embarking on any business activity whatsoever. That, of course, wasn't free - I had to pay £75 for it. The procedure lasted approximately 10 minutes (a tasty £450 per hour), or should have done, except that I didn't lie on the question of what I drink at weekends. As a result, the nurse went all wobbly and said she would have to wait for a Doctor to sign it off as I was exceeding government alcohol unit guidelines. As all of them were busy with appointments, I was sat waiting for over 20 minutes in the room - and you won't believe this, but trust me it's absolutely true - with a Chow dog sporting a big white collar round its neck, as nursey had explained at the start that her dog was sick and she didn't have anywhere else to take him ... except a doctor's examination room, natch.
Tempting as such classy care is, I don't feel the need to volunteer for more of the same with Gordon's new initiative. I'm sure there will come a time when I certainly will need the NHS that I pay a barrowload of readies for each month, but it's looking increasingly likely that, by then, they will routinely deny me the treatment for which I have paid, on the spurious grounds that my lifestyle is somehow costing the country money ... after ignoring the many tens of thousands of pounds I have paid into the system since starting work in 1985.
So, Gordon, whilst you may believe this to be a stonking idea, 'free' health checks don't really work for me, sunshine. Unless and until, that is, you instruct GPs and other health professionals to just check me over, fix me if required, and shut the fuck up about my personal choices.
Either that, or you could give me my bloody money back and let me arrange my own health cover with a company who will treat me as the high-paying customer that I am, instead of some burdensome miscreant to be vilified and treated with contempt.
** My fears about the NHS began in the 80s when, following a routine GP check up, I received a letter from the surgery stating that I was pregnant.