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    • What snowboarding and the NHS reforms have in common

      I returned home from a snowboarding trip last week. And let me make something clear: I am not the snowboarding type.
      I was lucky enough to be taken away by my husband’s family, who are avid and regular skiers. Well, I say lucky, but being a bit of a self-confessed klutz, those who know me - both friends and family - were terrified for my safety. 
      “Please be careful”, I was urged on countless occasions leading up to the trip. “Look after her”, my husband was warned. And so, as I planned for the Siberian temperatures wardrobe-wise and psyched myself up for the potential falls mentally, I was ready and raring to go by the time I stepped off the plane.
      Between the biting cold, the heavy boots, the stiff snowboard, and the countless falls, it was the hardest (yet most satisfying) thing I have ever done in my life. But not because of the sport itself. As it turned out, myself, and everyone else who worried about my safety, were focusing on the wrong thing.
      You see, apart from a few minor falls, which failed to leave even the slightest bruise, it was the more subtle, yet doubly painful, expectation on the body that the sport places. When your muscles are not used to doing something which they are then rigorously put through day after day, it hurts. By the end of each morning, I was aching all over. Nowhere near as serious as an accident, you will agree, but bloody painful all the same. And so, in reality, instead of worrying about a fatal accident, I really should have spent more time exercising my leg muscles.
      The planning-related epiphany was re-lived once again when a member of our group recounted that she had managed to ski for the entire week without injuring herself, only to sprain her ankle whilst sneezing in the lift. And then, more poignantly on returning home, when news of the tragic coach accident befalling the school ski-trip on their way home hit the pages of the press.
      Snowboarding itself teaches the same thing, as our instructor would constantly tell us not to think – “thinking will make you fall”, he’d say. Often we get so wrapped up in what might happen that we fail to focus on the present. Ultimately, there is only so far you can plan.
      There is, I believe, a deeper importance in this lesson, that the NHS might benefit from heeding. For it would seem that the reforms are focusing so much on the hypothetical that they are failing to touch base with real patients, real doctors, and real realities.  Handing power to the GPs, who, by and large, don’t want it; what matters most, it would seem, is the end result – the market environment which will, supposedly, increase competition, and thus money. But ultimately, patient care will, and is, suffering as we speak.
      HIV, as another example, was raised during Prime Minister’s Questions last week, as Ed Miliband claimed that under the proposed reforms, the treatment, which is “currently commissioned by one organisation”, would be fragmented. Once again, too much planning for the abstract and not enough dealing with the present.

      ‘The NHS is actually performing so well it does not need to undergo the radical transformation planned by the coalition’, a journal in the BMJ claimed last week. And whilst I wouldn’t go that far, it supports the point I am trying to make in that we would all be better served by the NHS continuing to make improvements as opposed to going through with the massive upheaval they are so determined to achieve and start from scratch. After all, if they were truly in touch with what their patients and staff wanted, they would have scrapped the Bill months ago.
      The budget might be better served by sending Andrew Lansley snowboarding.

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