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‘I was worried I was going to die’: why one NHS patient had to go private

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Dee Dickens, 52, from Pontypridd, made the difficult choice to seek private healthcare even though she is ideologically opposed to it. After discovering a lump in her breast she was referred for a scan on the NHS’s two-week rule for suspected cancer. But after waiting six weeks, and being continually being told the waiting time was going up, eventually to a three-month wait, she was forced to pay for her own scan and appointment privately.

“In February last year, I found a lump in my breast, and went to the doctor that day. The doctor examined me and said, ‘I don’t like that.’ She said the lump was the size of the top of her index finger and she would rush me through for an urgent screening that would take no longer than two weeks.

“Two weeks later, I’d heard nothing so I gave them a call. They said that because of Covid, things had slowed down and it might take four weeks. 

“A week later, one of my breasts had swelled up. It was itching and hot and it felt like it was infected. I felt unwell, too. But I was stressed to the gills. Every day, I was worried I was going to die. We know that we’re against the clock when it’s cancer.

“I went straight back to the doctor and she rang the hospital. They said, ‘We will put your patient right at the top of the waiting list, but it will now be six weeks.’

“At six weeks, I still hadn’t heard anything, so I called the hospital. They said that I was at the top of the list still, but it would now be 10 weeks. The wait was going up because, during the worst of Covid, they hadn’t seen anyone so they were now on catchup."

“I’d had enough. Every single day I was more and more worried and my mental health was worse and worse, and my family was having to deal with me crying over stupid things. been talking about going private. But I’d been resistant – we’re both very leftwing and believe passionately in the NHS.

However, in the Dee made an appointment with a private clinic. She was seen immediately.

“After the scan, the doctor told me that the lumps were glandular tissue. The swelling, the pain and itching – were all stress related. As soon as he said, ‘You’re not going to die,’ they stopped.

“The NHS is the only thing I’m truly proud of in the UK. What worries me is I can see it disappearing, if not in my lifetime then in my children’s lifetime. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to go private. It felt absolutely awful to have to make the choice I did.

“On the one hand, I knew I would have an answer. But on the other, I knew there were so many women who wouldn’t be able to do what I was doing. I felt guilty, I felt I’d put my own life above my principles."

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Source: The Guardian, 11 September 2022

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