Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt


I returned recently from a fortnight's break abroad - well-earned, even if I say so myself who shouldn't. To my great surprise, I discovered that my influence on the affairs of the nation had scarcely been missed and that human nature had not changed very much in my absence. In fact, to adapt very slightly the immortal words of a former poet laureate after the removal of the King's appendix, human nature was no better; it was the same.

Soon after my arrival back on the ward, I tried to speak to a colleague of mine, Dr S___, about a patient on the ward, whose medical history he knew well. A young woman, whose telephone manner was halfway between dim and pert, told me that I couldn't speak to Dr S___.

'Why not?' I asked.

'Because he's in a hospital situation.'

Some people mellow as they grow older; I don't. My fuse shortens. I almost went into one, in a manner of speaking.

'A hospital situation!' I exclaimed.

'Yes, a hospital situation.'

The English language has become the means by which we empty utterance of precise meaning.

'I'm in a hospital situation,' I spluttered. 'You're in a hospital situation. Half a million people are in a hospital situation. Thanks to the NHS, half a million people would like to be in a hospital situation, but can't be because there aren't enough hospital situations to go round. We're all in a hospital situation!'

And with that, feeling much better, I slammed down the phone.

Then I phoned the Health Authority about what a health service bureaucrat would no doubt call 'a funding issue'. …

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