Opinion with Melissa Todd: Resorting to private healthcare to help mum fight Crohn’s disease

Melissa's mum

My mum has had Crohn’s for fifteen years, easily controlled by steroids when it bothers her. Eighteen months ago she got a bad flare up, stopped eating, gradually dropping from 8 stone to 6. So, she tried to get a phone consultation for steroids. I won’t bore you with our stories of calling the doctor at 8am, being 77th in the queue, then told at 9.30am all that day’s appointments are gone, day after day after day: these are too commonplace now to be noteworthy.

Eventually, I tried the e-consult form on the Dr’s website. This is a tricky beast to negotiate, because if you make yourself sound too ill, the process is promptly aborted and you’re told to take yourself to A&E. (We’d tried that, and it had bought her a week in hospital, on a drip, much needed, but no steroids). A nutritionist rang, twice, and advised her to try whole milk and puddings, but as my mum explained, Crohn’s makes even the thought of food impossible to countenance, and everything she swallowed, her body swiftly ejected.

They prescribed her those meal replacement milkshakes, and gave her blood tests, a colonoscopy, 2 MRIs, but no steroids. They found something in her colon they thought might be cancer. It wasn’t. It was Crohn’s. Hurrah. But still no steroids.

The surgery kept texting her to get her covid jab, although she could no longer support her own weight, because still no steroids. After more hours waiting on the phone a nurse came to the house to vaccinate her, but still, and do feel free to join in on the chorus, no steroids.

We went back to A&E, spent eight hours sitting on those plastic chairs designed to shake off all but the most determined: I’d had enough of watching my mum die before my eyes. They put her on another drip and gave her two blood transfusions, treated all the symptoms of Crohn’s, but not the cause. Why can’t we just have some steroids, I kept asking every doctor who ran past us, white coattails flapping; then we will go away and leave you in peace, honest. An emergency doctor promised to put a prescription in the post. We waited three weeks, but it didn’t come. We rang the surgery again and got an appointment for a telephone consultation. No one rang. My mum lost another half stone, could no longer stand or feed herself, slept on the sofa night and day, a scrawny, gasping boy-shaped mess, shivering in the space once filled by my curvy, funny, darling mum.

So I googled “Can I see a nice helpful doctor now please if I type in my credit card details?” and blow me, you can. Half an hour and £40 later Dr Anne appeared on my phone for a video consultation and a steroid prescription. It was easy. Now my mum’s sitting up, demanding takeaways, and complaining no one’s looked after her plants properly, all pink-faced and perky. Bliss.

The NHS is no longer fit for purpose. It can only be accessed by those with an abundance of health, time, energy and determination, none of which my mum possessed at the start of her illness, all of which dwindled at every obstacle she encountered.

I don’t have any answers, and I have heard too many similar stories from too many people to believe our experience exceptional. I know that if I get ill I will pay £40 immediately rather than face the torturous, baffling death-throes of the NHS, which seems to be in even worse shape than my mother. I realise this foretells the dissolution of free, accessible healthcare in the UK, and that absolutely devastates me. I squirmed with guilt as the chemist said, “Oh, is that a private prescription?”, her voice dripping contempt, but having spent 18 months watching my mother fade to a wraith, my chief emotion remained relief. Don’t get ill, Thanet, but if you must, make sure you have an income.


  1. The UK population has risen, particularly due to the elderly living much longer. And the elderly (such as myself) require more health care.
    So the expenditure on the NHS should rise to meet the challenge.
    But it hasn’t. It has been kept low.
    I don’t blame you for paying for private health care. It’s your mother, after all.
    But you HAD to pay out because THAT is government policy. To run down the NHS so that you don’t have a choice! They call it the “free” market.
    There is nothing wrong with the idea of a National Health Service, paid for from taxation and free at the point of use.
    But it won’t function very well if the central government doesn’t believe in it and tries every way they can to sabotage it.

  2. We need to have a mature conversation in this country about the future of the NHS. Our society and country is immeasurably different from when the principle that free healthcare for all was established.

    A move to a healthcare system funded by insurance policies like USA and many other countries is the only way forward.

    Otherwise the whole system is going to collapse and the fact it is free at the point of entry isn’t going to help if no one can actually access it as you have highlighted.

    The biggest challenge we have as a country is that we want Scandinavian quality public services but also want a low tax economy. It doesn’t work.

    • An insurance driven healthcare system such as that available in the USA is just about the worst in the world. It’s guaranteed to make healthcare provision completely inaccessible to a large fraction of the population.
      Keefogs has it right. The government has systematically de-funded the NHS over more than a decade
      In the “I” newspaper today, for example, it’s reported that the government has issued a directive to NHS trusts to the effect that any new hospital provision (such as a new wing, facility or unit) should be fed to the media as “one of the new 48 hospitals”.
      It’s quite shocking, Melissa. And I hope you’ve raised the issue with your MP.

      However: is there possibly a clinical reason that your mother was not prescribed steroids? She seems to have had various responses from various aspects of the service, just not the one you want.
      (S)He who pays the piper ..m

      • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Yes, in fairness, the hospital were worried she might have cancer, and that steroids might mask the symptoms and make it more difficult to diagnose. But the fact it took them so long to perform the necessary diagnostic tests – for which they wrote to apologise – meant she was at severe risk of dying from malnutrition and dehydration. And now she’s on steroids she’s inhaling cake like Bruce Bogtrotter and turning cartwheels. But yes, doctors and nutritionists have tried to help, although so slowly that without an intervention from me she wouldn’t have survived.

    • I see what you’re saying, but a dear friend of mine, living Boston Massachusetts, recently celebrated his good fortune at getting such a good healthcare deal, he’s only paying 700 dollars a month. Who could afford that in this country?

    • The US healthcare system sounds appalling! You have to be well-off to get a decent level of healthcare in America. The NHS is much better and will be better still if it gets more funding.

  3. We need to fight to save our NHS with everything we have! Save Our NHS in Kent has a demonstration outside QEQM Seotember 4th 12 noon. Come and show that you support free, hood quality health care for all.

    • Christine … “All you have got” is protest.
      The fact is in CCG NHS Planning there are statutory reporting duties upon local authorities and Water suppliers. For Thanet those duties have never been complied with.

      This part is a question of LAW. This part was disclosable by SONIK and LEIGH DAY to Stroke Unit judicial Review AND to QEQM Maternity Tragedy Inquests. SONIK and LEIGH DAY failed to obey High Court disclosure rules and failed to obey Common Law Duty to Inquests.

      So SONIK, including you, did NOTHING to fight for the cause for extra health equality funding for Thanet NHS. In fact you hampered the fight for NHS justice in Thanet.

      The SECOND issue (Upon which the FIRST is NOT DEPENDENT Isle of Thanet News) is Medical Science. I reported to expert inquiry Dr KIRKUP Maternity Tragedies. As a result research has been scheduled by them into Thanet environmental hazards to health CYCLOHEXANONE PCBs and PFAS. I have kept KIRKUP copied into my exchanges with Environment Agency. At the present re their preparation to enforce United Nations Stockholm Convention on Persistent Orpganic Pollutants (POPS) PFAS (Manston fire foam residue Forever Chemical) And PCBs (GEC burials of transformer oils by GEC at Westwood and Pegwell)

      Periodically the Thanet News acts as the vacuous virtue signalling publicist for you and your useless ilk … photoshoots of banner waving morons who must irk the lives of NHS staff at QEQM.

      Is it possible you would consider growing up?

  4. The success/failure/future of the nhs is all very much dependent on the way it is used and abused. It would never have been envisaged that in 2021 it would be dealing with a population in which over 60% of adults are overweight or obese. This alone with its associated illnesses, additional wear and tear on the body and commonly lack of fitness and mobility creates a massive demand that in the vast majority of cases is self inflicted and a matter of choice.
    How much money do you give a health service that spends so much treating people that seemingly don’t care about their health, but who simultaneously get themselves in such a state that they becomethose in greatest need and endup bed blovcking while the nhs tries to get them well enough to disharge.?
    Perhaps the nation has created the service it deserves. And all that without even looking at the interaction of covid and excess weight.
    If there were an insurance element to healthcare in the uk, premiums would no doubt reflect the lifestyles and choices made and so people would directly see what it is expected to cost to look after them, so maybe not such a bad idea.

    • Indeed, it is a feature of private insurance based healthcare systems that cover for chronic conditions is just about impossible to get.
      As many wealthy Americans have discovered to their cost.
      Ex CEOs, having to sell their luxury homes and live in trailer parks to pay for their kidney dialysis, for example.

      • That’s the downside of private medical insurance and why i’m not a fan, but there does need to be some way of demonstrating what some treatments cost and there being some sort of redress for those whose treatment is effectively a result of their own choices. How that’s achieved i’ve no idea. But an nhs that treats everything for nothing in a world of ever increasing demand and ever more expensive new drugs/treatments is not affordable and there’ll be ever greater numbers of stories of those who’ve been “failed” by the system.

        • The NHS doesn’t treat people for “nothong”. Almost all of us pay National Insurance and taxes of one sort or another.
          The NHS does not willy-nilly dish out expensive treatments unless they can be justified.

          • The nhs is free at point of service, the level of notional contributions makes no difference, NI contributions are just another part of the general tax income and are not rolled into income tax for fear of people seeing how much they and their employers really pay.
            By all means continue as we are treating the obese for conditions they’ve bought on themselves , needing oversized ambulances , beds , longer stays, more complex surgery and riskier anaesthesia. But if we’re to go down this route then lets bump up income tax by 3p in the pound and explain why.
            Is it truly unreasonable to expect people to take responsibility for their wellbeing rather than expect everyone to pick up the pieces. The issue is so prevalent that something needs to be done one way or the other, to both protect the nhs and those left waiting for treatment.
            In addition there needs to be an acceptance that the population of the uk is probably 4 million over the official figures, and as such the nhs is underfunded by around 6%. But no party will grant an amnesty because of the costs it will incur and the additional draw factor it will create for those wishing to come here.
            The country is in a mess financially , pretty much a larger version of TDC

  5. If anyone is unaware of what is happening to our NHS the following films on YouTube are available. The great NHS heist. The dirty war on the NHS. SickoUK. Groundswell. Under the knife. insurance based healthcare is the government plan as many of them are shareholders

    • And theflipside is thatif the population ate sensibly took some exercise and looked after their health , there’d be more than enough money in the system to look after those in real need . That the population choose not to and the resulting costs are astronomical is it any surprise that there are those seeking alternative health provision.
      The system we have should be perfectly adequate, but its not because of the way its used.
      What would your solution be?

        • Oh your solution! Pour greater amounts of money into a bottomless pit especially the administrative side of the NHS where jobs are created on daily basis and empires are built for individuals to lord over! Ever worked in the NHS?

        • Is there a point at which you’d stop pouring money in? Quite agree regarding PFI as cynical a method of appearing to provide services for little cash upfront but loading future generations with debt as there is imaginable and used by both blue and red goverments to make themselves look better than they are.

    • No, many will have come from overseas, just as manymof the nhs staff have. Again a cost saving tactic used by succesive governments to create the illusion of improvement on the cheap

  6. The first duty of a private healthcare company is to make money for its shareholders and investors.
    It does this by
    a) charging the highest possible premiums it can get away with
    b) spending as little as possible on claimants, irrespective of clinical need.

  7. Andrew so have I worked in the NHS in the latter part of my working life and it is not just PFI and third parties that need examining as to what they actually add to supporting NHS patient services but a swathe of administrative posts in the Band 4 and above grades.

    • Very likely. But that’s not an argument for replacing the NHS with a US style private insurance healthcare system.
      A danger of chucking out the baby with the bathwater.

      • Andrew. I did not advance an argument for a US style private insurance healthcare system. I made the point about a swathe of middle and upper administrative management posts (non frontline) that are in some cases less than effective and that is putting it politely. Still that could also apply to other areas of the public sector and I have had personal experience in a wide swathe of organisations.

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