Not for the first time, I must thank an NHS walk-in centre for patching me up after another attempt to pretend I am still young, and full of athletic and sporting potential.
My 1hr 50 (ish, depending on how much time I reduce for interview stops) time in the Great North Run, a personal worst by several minutes, looked a little more impressive when I surveyed the damage of my blistered left foot this morning.
I had first started to feel it after six miles, right on the side of the foot, which is not a usual place for blisters, from which in any event I rarely suffer. I thought about stopping to check if there was a stone or something inside my shoe, but I knew I was due for an interview stop, so decided to wait till then. But by the time I did the interview, I was worried about losing too much time, so ploughed on, citing the old maxim that if you have survived pain for one mile, you can do another, then another, to the end.
Once the end was reached, I removed socks and shoes to reveal that the blister had spread from side to sole, and once I had got back to my hotel to watch the end of the Manchester derby – ‘football, bloody hell’ and all that – I could barely put weight on my foot.
By the time I was on the train home, so bad was my limp as I made repeated trips to the toilet, having drunk nine 330 centilitre bottles of water since the run, that Sting, in the same carriage after having officially started the race several hours earlier, came over to inquire. I had been studiously ignoring him on the grounds that a real celeb like him must get fed up of people trying to talk to him, but we ended up having a good chat. Nice bloke. New album sounds interesting.
By this morning, I could not get on sock or shoe. Into my head came one of the ‘lines to take’ when the walk-in centres were first announced around a decade a go … that they were designed to take pressure from GPs.
I have a terrific GP, but did I really want to add to his Monday morning load with what, when all is said and done, is just a blister, even if it was preventing me from walking properly? So off I set, barefoot, able only to walk on tiptoes, carrying shoes in the hope I’d be able to wear them on departure, to the walk-in centre at Finchley Memorial Hospital.
A couple of minutes to give my details, a five minute wait, five minutes with a nurse, another few minutes waiting for the affected area to be cleaned and dressed, job done, nurse back in to advise me about how to help it heal, shoes on and away I limped. No running, cycling or swimming for two weeks, added the nurse, making me feel even better about my 1.50ish time, if not so good about two weeks without exercise. Fiona didn’t seem too happy when I told her baths and showers were out for a few days too, in case the dressing came off.
I keep banging on about the need for Labour to do a better job of defending the record. Of course since the global financial crisis, the economy has tended to dominate the agenda, and now all the parties are talking about having to make cuts, even the Lib Dems, though I suspect Nick Clegg regrets using the word ‘savage’ to describe them.
But let nobody forget that in the past 12 years public services have seen considerable extra investment and, whatever the Tories and the media say, considerable improvements that would not have happened without that investment.
The walk-in centres may not be as great an achievement as the NHS itself, back in the days of the post-war Labour government. But they are a reminder that in small ways and large, day in day out, this govenment has improved the NHS after the Thatcher-Major years, and made a difference for the better.