Wednesday 9 April 2014

Turning into Victor Meldrew

I don’t recall exactly when I turned into Victor Meldrew, but there is no doubt that we are now completely indistinguishable.

Keith Hann
Victor Meldrew

Having fallen about laughing at the line “Don’t tell him, Pike!” at a recent awards dinner, and found that no one else on the table recognised it (or had even heard of Dad’s Army), I should perhaps explain that Meldrew was an irascible, elderly sitcom character.

I thought of him as, before I sat down to write this column, I emailed Inchcape to tell them that they were mistaken in their belief that my Land Rover was due for a service, only to have my message instantly bounced back because the email address they had provided did not exist.

I then rang Npower to ask why on earth they had written to me suggesting that I could save money by switching from my Economy 7 tariff on the grounds that I am not using enough electricity at night. Which seemed odd, given that I use ten times more power then than during the day, owing to my reliance on storage heaters.

Their representative cheerily admitted that it was a “generic” letter they had sent to all their Economy 7 customers. So no chance of some confused or vulnerable people being worried or persuaded to pay more than they need to, then.

So much for this week’s sterling efforts at customer service by the private sector. I hesitate to move on to the public sector, because I have found from bitter experience that it is never a good idea to question other people’s religions or quasi-religions, and the NHS definitely falls into the latter category.

Nevertheless, I cannot think of any other organisation that would expect me to wait patiently for two hours, as I did on Friday in the company of my two-year-old son to see his consultant, only to be told: “He’s not here today.”

To be fair, I exaggerate. I only spent 90 minutes in the waiting room. The first half hour was spent alone in the car waiting for a parking space to become available, following the hospital’s decision to fence off at least three quarters of its car park and designate it “staff only”.

Leaving a totally inadequate provision for “visitors” or, as in our case, “patients”. I don’t know what happened after that as I got the red mist and walked out, remarking that their communications were a joke.

My wife, who was also there, said she found the subsequent consultation useful and our son did not bite anyone, so I suppose it may be counted a qualified success.

I have never known anything of the sort occur in private medicine. There you always seem to be able to see the consultant you expected, at pretty much the time you agreed. The surroundings are usually nicer, too.

The downside in my experience is that they are always eager to recommend a barrage of tests in the hope of identifying some expensive treatment to charge to your insurer.

When I went privately to a cardiologist a few years ago I was told that I urgently needed an invasive procedure on my heart.

I sought a second opinion and was referred to the NHS because the even more sophisticated test my new consultant recommended was not available anywhere else, even for ready money. It concluded that I would be just fine and there must be something in it, as I have not had the originally predicted massive heart attack at the time of writing.

Today I shall have the delight of speaking to my private health insurers to ask how they can justify their latest 14% increase in my premium to more than £4,000 per annum, given that I have not made a claim for several years.

“Old age and rising costs” will no doubt come the answer. The same reason that NHS spending continues to spiral in a way that makes it, I suspect, completely unsustainable.

But I shall steer clear of that and conclude with a topic on which we can all agree: the non-contrition and non-resignation of Maria Miller. Here Victor and I are in absolutely perfect harmony. Altogether now: “I don’t believe it!”

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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