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by Margaret Taylor
08 December 2022
Seeing a doctor has become a privilege so why cling to the idea it's a right?

Seeing a doctor has become a privilege so why cling to the idea it's a right?

Around a month ago I threw my back out – threw it out in an all you can do is stand straight or lie flat kind of a way. I’ve done it before – the perils of bearing a child, I guess – and in the past I’ve paid a quick visit to the GP, been given some painkillers, and slowly stretched while waiting for the worst to pass.

This time was different, though. On calling the GP surgery I was given no option but to go to minor injuries, fobbed off with the promise of nurses and X-ray machines. But minor injuries was mobbed and as I couldn’t sit for one minute, never mind the 270 the white board ambitiously estimated I’d have to wait, I chose an alternative. I booked an appointment with a private GP.  

It’s quite the admission, isn’t it? And paying £80 to skip the queue certainly felt like a profligate move. But, having had all my concerns listened to during a full 15-minute consultation (£140 would have bought me half an hour – imagine!), leaving the clinic with a head full of advice, an expensive prescription in hand, it felt like it was money well spent.

Is this actually where we want to be as a country, though? Where people with a bit of disposable income can get their pain dealt with in super-fast time while those with no cash to spare simply have to suffer? 

There was outrage last month when the BBC’s Scotland editor James Cook reported that NHS chiefs, when discussing how to reform a system that everybody accepts is not working as it should, had floated the idea of moving to one in which patients would be sent home more quickly, funding for some drugs would be curtailed, and the wealthy would have to pay for their treatment.

Cook had seen the minutes of the meeting, which saw trust leaders discuss potential ways to deal with a “billion-pound hole” in their budget. But the idea of an NHS that is free at the point of need is so sacrosanct it is seen as sacrilege to even suggest that it might not be. Ire was heaped on Cook for reporting on the meeting while out in the real world the two-tier system continued to operate, with people who can pay paying and people who can’t pay waiting.

I check my privilege all the time. I do it when I turn the heating on or fill the fruit bowl, when I pay for my kid’s music lessons or catch a train to take my mum out for lunch. I do it when I book a gym class, when my thoughts turn to holidays, and when I buy new clothes I like but don’t necessarily need. Are these really luxuries, though? Have I really joined the ranks of the wealthy by being able to indulge in them?

When the BBC story broke there was much consternation from the SNP, with both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and health secretary Humza Yousaf insisting that Scotland’s health service would remain publicly owned, publicly operated and free to all who need it. There will be no two-tier systems here, thank you very much.

The truth is, though, a two-tier system is already well established – as I and many like me have had the privilege of discovering. The government should own that truth and maybe then it would be able to contemplate the kind of reform the Scottish health service so desperately needs. Because more of what we’ve got really isn’t good enough.

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Read the most recent article written by Margaret Taylor - Homeless applications soar to highest-ever level amid cost-of-living crisis

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