"Lumbar disc - NHS despair"

About: Northamptonshire Teaching PCT

(as the patient),

Having just heard that I am likely to need surgery, pending an MRI scan, to remove a disc bulge on the right side of my lower back, which I now know to be called L5, S1, I find myself in a distressing predicament. Although my symptoms are classed as ‘severe’ and the mixture of a very weak right leg, terrible pain and a concoction of pain relief that renders me unfit to drive, I am horrified to discover that even classed as urgent, there is a 6 week wait for an MRI scan and a 4-6 month wait for surgery.

After an initial meeting with my GP last October, and a variety of pain relief over the coming months, January arrived before I was told that I was having what was described as an ‘episode’ - my own mini series in fact, where I was passed from doctor to physiotherapist and back to doctor before being told that it was necessary to have an MRI scan. It wasn’t obviously as simple as popping into your nearest hospital, as there was the small matter of the NHS waiting list – so my physio suggested one of the ‘cheaper’ options (it makes a huge difference in price depending on where you have it done) to speed the process up a little! Armed with my MRI and £300 bill, after an 8 week wait, I had a consultation with a spinal triage team, various other pain relief, a facet block injection and more visits to my GP and 7 months later, we arrive at today.

I am a 34 year old, with a responsible job which I love and am very keen to return to and angrily find myself held to ransom by lack of good NHS services. I have to make the decision to either stop work, leaving a great deal of preparation and work to be done on my behalf and some kind of cover until I get to the top of the waiting list, or, get a loan to pay (once again) for an MRI (£672 in Oxford!) and around £7000-£8000 for surgery, to be seen straight away. Needless to say, I don’t have that cash spare in my pocket and I wouldn’t be quite so exasperated if the same thing hadn’t happened to me 8 ½ years ago on the left side of my L5, S1. (Apparently, I am one of the sad 7% of people who need this secondary surgery).

It seems unbelievable that all this time has passed and nothing has changed within the NHS. When I was 26, in my second year of work and had my first lot of surgery, I was told that there was a 3 month wait for an MRI and an 18 month wait for surgery. The MRI was to cost £500 and the surgery £3500 and I had to make the decision back then to either get a loan and pay for it myself and get back to work, or face half pay and then no pay at all – there really was no option.

I am not writing to moan about the amount of money I have spent, although it is more than I can afford, but really just to ask, what is happening to our country? My GP has been amazing and really can’t do enough, but, there is only so much he can do within the system.

I want to work; I don’t want to be wasting my life and this must be the same for so many other people in the country. It is a very sad situation where money talks – if you have it, you are treated faster, and 9 years after my first experience, the NHS is still struggling. What can we expect in the future?

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