Where do you stand in the NHS queue of 10 million?

Jack Turley June 13, 2020

Naturally, most people are dying to get back to the pub. Or desperate for an authentic restaurant meal, sick of takeaway substitutes arriving lukewarm, with soggy chips. Would consider giving a kidney for a trip to Sydney, Seoul, or even just Scotland. Well, that’s 86% of the population, or six out of seven of us. 

But then there is the remaining one in seven people. Referred to the hospital, they fear their symptoms, dreading the unknown, considering the worst – dying not for a pint but for an appointment, indefinitely delayed by the pandemic.

Many are desperate for relief from their health issues: from pain, incapacitation, uncertainty. From crippling mental health disorders. Nervously awaiting a kidney transplant, or the next stage of chemotherapy, or, like me, major surgery. 

Lucky we’re good at queueing

The NHS Confederation – a body which covers organisations providing health services – predicts that the NHS waiting list is set to increase to 10 million people by Christmas. That’s not a typo: 10 million people. 

As a species, we haven’t evolved to be sufficiently shocked by such large figures, but try for a moment to imagine the entire population of Portugal in a queue. If these would-be patients stood in line (the obligatory two metres apart, of course), the queue would stretch from Scotland to Seoul and could even extend beyond Sydney to New Zealand. 

While our government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been anything but world-leading, the scale of our current public health crisis is certainly world-beating. 

It seems Brexit could not come soon enough, because Boris needs to administer his magical £350m weekly flu jab into our wearied and sniffling NHS system, immediately. 

Mystery deaths

More people are dying, already, and not just directly from covid-19 causes, but also from the resulting medical neglect. Numbers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) detail a surplus of deaths far above any explanations of statistical anomaly.

Back in May, two months into lock-down, the ONS reported 55,000 extra deaths (those above the normal range for the last five years) since the outbreak of the pandemic in the UK. 

At that time, we hadn’t yet reached the grim milestone of 40,000 coronavirus mortalities. 

This leaves us contemplating over 15,000 unexplained deaths in our country, and yet no one seems to be overly shocked or concerned by this. Perhaps, again, it’s the faceless figures. Maybe an image can shock, but a number is still just a number. 15,000 might not seem many in a population of millions. Thousands, millions, billions, blah, blah, blah.

Let’s build a clearer image of 15,000

Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images

Picture this: taking a break from socially distanced training, the Watford manager, Nigel Pearson, checks the news and discovers every season ticket holder at his club has passed away. All of them. Gone. It won’t matter if relegation battles are played behind closed doors anymore, because the fans have all died since the last match. Coroners aren’t sure what killed them, but they don’t think it’s related to coronavirus. They’re just gone. 

But don’t worry, Boris insists, things are getting better – at least you can now go to the zoo! Therapy by ogling some animals whose lives are one endless lock-down, a poignant reminder of those tough times from which we’ve seamlessly emerged.

Except, we haven’t yet emerged and numbers like these are far from normal. This is not okay. Just because these mystery surplus deaths don’t all happen to be in one town or football club, it shouldn’t eradicate the degree of concern. These are people’s nans and grandads, dads and husbands, mothers and wives. Statistics say that now should not have been their time to go, and yet they have gone. 

Claims of pride in our health service ring hollow if appreciation only arrives in times of desperation. Comparisons with a war effort and heroes are good for key-worker morale, but the relative ease with which other developed nations like Germany and Japan have dealt with the crisis demonstrate that our wounds are entirely self-inflicted. 

Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Deep austerity measures over the last decade forced the NHS to work at breaking point long before the pandemic. Now, the excess mortality rate doesn’t lie. 

We should be questioning why there is no explanation for these deaths, not waiting in line, hoping we’re not next to join them. 

‘So, where exactly am I in the line?’

Not a clue, sorry. And don’t even think about pushing in, we’ve all been queueing here since March. 

J E Turley is a novelist and freelance writer. To read more about his novels, or about living with Crohn’s and Colitis, head to jeturleywriting.co.uk.