After my triumph in extracting strong antibiotics from a local GP surgery, I decide to press ahead with this exciting project of getting something back for my taxes. I want to help myself to some of the services at those women’s health clinics one is always hearing about. Ministers are forever singing their praises and begging us to visit them. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that you are not a good citizen until you submit to a gamut of embarrassing tests yearly, thereby saving you and the NHS further bother down the road.
I don’t make the mistake of trying to drive to St George’s Hospital this time. I pay a taxi to ferry me around Tooting, and the vast campus of the hospital itself, until the unit in question magically materialised amid much Urdu swearing. It turns out there is one tiny blue cycling route sign on the main road which points in the hospital’s direction, so the environmental enforcement officers at the local authority who are trying to stop people using cars to get there have not thought of everything, it seems.
When I arrive, I am greeted by an empty reception desk but there is a push button ‘satisfaction’ survey machine whereby I can register the fact that I am being kept waiting.
My presence is eventually acknowledged and I am given a heap of forms mostly concentrating on my ethnic group, country of origin and other matters of social categorisation. I am then seated in an airport departure lounge-style waiting area with joined-together seats, facing a television screen showing episodes of Will & Grace. The patients sit in rows not laughing. Clearly there are limits to the ability of even Paramount Comedy to put smiles on faces.