Shattered Life: Death by Bureaucracy in Britain’s Government Health Service

Posted: Sep 03, 2009 11:21 AM
...from the National Center for Public Policy Research's new book, Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care

Death by Bureaucracy in Britain’s Government Health Service

Imagine losing a loved one, only to be offered a “remedy” one year later.

Pat Booy of Bristol, United Kingdom lost her husband, Brian, 60, to a heart attack.  Brian had been on the government-managed Bristol Royal Infirmary’s waiting list for triple heart bypass surgery for 72 weeks since doctors diagnosed him with angina in July 1997.

Not wanting to risk missing Brian’s surgery, the family took great lengths to stay by his side.  “We were frightened to go out or go on holiday in case the phone rang and we missed it.  He was looking forward to the life he was going to lead after the operation,” said Pat.

But Brian’s turn never came.  After being taken to Southmead Hospital because of breathing difficulties in January 1999, Brian was diagnosed with a chest infection.  Two days later, a massive heart attack killed Brian at home.

Says a frustrated Pat, “When they told us we were on the waiting list we just accepted it, thinking it might be a few months.  But it just went on and on and in the end you just think it will never happen.  Angina is not the sort of thing you can wait for.  It just gets worse and it needs to be dealt with straight away.”

“I can’t believe it could ever have got that bad without something being done,” Pat added.

However, at roughly the time of the one-year mark of Brian’s death, widow Pat received a letter from the cardiac department at Bristol Royal Infirmary.  Finally, Brian was offered an appointment for heart bypass surgery for the beginning of March 2000 – over one year since his death.  [# More #] A baffled and angry Pat said, “It was a bit of an angry scene.  I thought ‘Surely they must know’ [of Brian’s death], and my son was very angry and phoned the hospital.”

Astonishingly, the hospital had not recorded Brian’s death.  A hospital spokesman explained, “At present the hospital does not have a way of knowing if a patient has died unless we are informed by a GP [general practitioner – i.e., family doctor].”

Two years after Brian’s death, a frustrated Pat remarked, “I know what it is like to live your life on a waiting list and it’s no fun.  When you are dealing with someone’s heart, there is no such thing as a non-urgent case.  I don’t want anyone else to go through what we have.”

 “I can’t help but wonder,” Brian’s widow added, “that if he’d had the operation sooner, he’d still be here.”

Purchase or download a free PDF of The National Center for Public Policy Research's new book, Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care, for more on the way waiting lists affect the lives of people living in countries with government-run medicine.  You can download it today for free at

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