‘Do not go to the NHS walk-in centre, it will only upset you.’ This was the advice from a friend last week as I drove around Tooting with earache searching in vain for St George’s Hospital. How a building with 1,000 beds and 6,000 staff is undetectable to the naked eye is a wonder to me. But it really is the case that this place exists in a Bermuda triangle. Not one sign indicates its presence. My friend explained: ‘They don’t signpost it because they don’t want you to find it by car. They want you to take public transport.’
They? Who are ‘They’? And why do They care if I travel to hospital by car? This was clearly ridiculous, and yet now I thought about it my local GP surgery had virtually ordered me to attend the hospital by London Underground. I had rung them in the grip of aural agony to be told, as usual, that the doctor could only see me in three days’ time. Although I normally sigh and open my cheque book to the private sector, this time something inside me snapped — possibly an ear drum. I demanded that they offer me further options of the kind I had already paid for with my taxes, and not the option which involves me going to a stucco-fronted house in Belgravia and paying £200. I’ve had enough of it, you see. As William Hague once so rightly, but unfortunately for him rather prematurely, said, ‘We’ve paid the tax, so where are the services?’ I told this to the doctor’s receptionist and she told me the services were at something called a walk-in centre. When I asked how to find this Utopian place of healing she said, ‘You get on the Tube at Balham and…’ ‘Can I just stop you there,’ I explained.