Thursday, February 25, 2010

The NHS Thermometer of Suffering

Someone at the NHS must have bought themselves a new set of coloured pencils.

And that someone is clearly not afraid to use them.

A few days back a leaflet plopped through the letterbox from B&NES NHS. Your guide to choosing the right NHS service if you become ill or are injured this winter, it’s called, which trips off the tongue like... well, like something that isn’t very good at tripping.

And in any case, isn’t winter pretty much finished for his year? It’s February. There are lots of green sprouty things pointing out of the ground, and even the occasional crocus if you look closely enough amid the churned-up mud. It’s two months too late, quite frankly.

No matter: the NHS wants to tell you about winter infections, and has drawn up a snazzy colour-coded-rainbow-thermometer-type-thing to help you decide on your course of action based on the severity of your symptoms when you’re poorly.

For want of a picture, here’s a f’rinstance. You have a “Hangover”, a “Grazed knee”, a “Sore throat” or a “Cough”. Any one of these means you’re in the blue column, and you should opt for self-care. There’s even a dinky little logo of a house, which obviously means you should stay at home until you feel better.

Hmmm. Sounds like you’ve got carte blanche to ring your boss on a Monday morning and tell her the NHS says it’s all right for you not to come in to work because you’ve got a hangover. Your call.

Next comes the green column, which includes really nasty symptoms like “Unwell?” and “Need help?” Oh, and “Vomiting” and “Diarrhoea” for good measure. If you’ve got any of that lot then under no circumstances should you go within 25 metres of a health professional, in case it’s catching. Just get on the phone or that modern internet thingy to NHS Direct, and they’ll patch you up in no time at all.

Further up the Thermometer of Suffering comes yellow-green (“Back ache”? “Runny nose”? Go to Boots), and then yellow-orange.

Symptoms here range from “Constant pains” to “Constant aches,” with “Lumps” and “Bumps” thrown in for luck. For these you should visit your GP. Who will send you back to the blue column with a thick ear, because it was only a hangover in the first place.

In the second-worst, deep orange, get-thee-to-an-NHS-walk-in-centre column, things get a bit confusing.

Because among the “Strains” and “Sprains” comes “Itches”. Itches? Really? Since when did scratching stop being the cure for the itches?

Finally, we reach the Big Red One. The scale of suffering, that is, not the US infantry division.

If you’re in this column, with “Choking”, “Chest pain”, “Blacking out” and/or “Blood loss”, then – and only then – are you a candidate for Casualty.

Either that or you’re already dead. Still, you didn’t want to trouble the doctor, did you?

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