A few years ago the phrase Postcode Lottery was used almost continuously to describe the differences between health care from one area to another. A few weeks ago I found out for myself that this is still unfortunately fairly accurate.
For the last couple of years I’ve had occasional issues with my hip due to a condition I was born with however two months ago it blew up to levels I had not experiences. Constant pain, an inability to walk, taking the best part of an hour to walk up one flight of stairs. I thought I was disabled before that point but I had no idea things were so bad until they happened. Being the headstrong, determined (some might say stubborn) person I am I tried to battle through until I couldn’t any longer. I was on the waiting list to see a young hip consultant at that time although things were moving very slowly, no pun intended, and I was still living on my own in my flat up one flight of stairs.
After speaking, or should that be crying due to the pain, to a friend of mine I phoned Occupational Therapy where I spoke to an individual who I will not name who demanded that I agree that others were worse off than myself as others had cancer not just not being able to move and as I was young she had other priorities unless I was mentally unwell or planning to hurt myself. Great that she asked about mental health but even if I had been the way I was spoken to I don’t think I would have confided in her even if I had been. I felt so bad at that stage that I had dared to trouble her with my worries over my health but had no idea where to turn. Things as it happened were removed from my hands because the next morning I woke up and couldn’t move at all. I phoned NHS24 and spoke to a lovely woman who understood the pain I was in and got an appointment at the local hospital for the out of hours GP. Several hours later I was hooked up on very strong pain medication and was able to be discharged into my parents care.
Its now around eight weeks later and I’ve been treated at my parents doctor as a temporary patient, been in and out of hospitals, been regularly seen by a physiotherapist and have now seen the consultant I had previously waited a year to see. My parents live around 50 miles away from home and the treatment I have received has been so remarkably different from that I received while in my own home. I have been treated as an individual rather than a hassle and sadly I really understand the meaning of Postcode Lottery now. I should also mention I also had an emergency appointment with another Occupational Therapist where I was seen by a person who was aghast that a colleague could have completely disregarded me simply due to my age and has arranged for physical assistance including a bath lift to allow me to wash! Not being able to wash or look after yourself has such an impact on your mental health so I’m so thankful for her understanding.
I’ve learned so many lessons during this time. Namely that it is not ok to be treated as less than human and this has made me even more determined to stand for Council elections next year. I never, ever, want anyone to feel as bad as I felt when asking for help which was much needed. Secondly that mental health and physical health are so intrinsically linked. My physical health being so bad and not being able to do basic tasks like wash had such an impact on my mental health. If it wasn’t for good friends and family who I was able to cry to when things were bad I don’t think I would have had the energy to battle my physical condition. This make me determined to continue to fight against any cuts to services and to continue to speak out for mental health. It really can impact on anyone. Thirdly that even although I consider myself to be well aware of the lives of disabled people there really is no better marker than lived experience hence I promise to continue to ask disabled people their own stories and how I can best help them and to never assume that because two people have the same physical condition that they will both be impacted the same way. People are individuals and deserve to be treated as such. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, to campaign as much as I can possibly can to remove barriers to care and health for all people regardless of where they happen to live.
The past few months have been difficult for myself but I have been able to take lessons from these and I promise that these will be central to my election campaign and beyond. Disabled people do matter and we need to ensure that this is the case in all aspects of life and politics.