After a lifetime’s advocacy for the public model of healthcare and a career as an NHS psychiatrist, he died alone in hospital.
The call from the hospital came at quarter to seven on a Friday morning. My father was at the end of his life. By the time we arrived, it was too late to say goodbye or to comfort him.
My dad was the greatest man I will ever know. He was my hero. It feels cliched to say it but he really was. He was my political compass and my intellectual lodestar. Born Ali El-Gingihy in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1932, he lived through the second world war and the watershed 1956 Suez crisis. Like many of his generation, he idolised progressive, independence leaders such as Nasser, Nkrumah, Lumumba and Nehru. He taught me that the world may belong to its rulers, but that it should belong to all of us.
As an NHS psychiatrist, he fought tirelessly for his vulnerable patients against Thatcherite reforms, something they showed appreciation for whenever they saw him in the streets. He taught me to believe in and fight for a more just society, in which people might fulfil their true potential. I followed in his footsteps by becoming a doctor and an advocate for the NHS.
My profession was not the only thing I inherited from my father. In his prime, he combined his medical studies with politics, journalism and even film school. But when it became clear that his uncompromising writing would not be tolerated by the regime, he packed it all up. Perhaps he could have become a great writer but instead he dedicated himself to his family. As a writer myself, I intend to complete the memoir he never finished. I think he would have liked that very much.
I anticipated he would not always be here for me. But there is no preparing for the shock of the permanent irreversibility of death. I can no longer walk into the family home and find him sitting in his armchair holding court on the matters of the day. I yearn to share another joke, conversation or football match.
There was nowhere in the world I preferred to be than by his side watching a Champions League clash. As he got older, I became aware that our time together was finite, and I made sure I was there for every big game. I thought I was doing this to keep him company, but I now realise I was also doing it for myself. Watching our beloved Liverpool play against Manchester United last weekend left me feeling bereft, but it is what he would have wanted.
The searing and raw pain of grief is compounded by the way he died, alone in a hospital side room. When the pandemic began, my father was receiving kidney dialysis in hospital three times a week. I worried that his visits would expose him. But when the vaccine distribution started I thought we had avoided the worst.
Then, in early January, he was admitted to hospital with severe anaemia. After two negative swabs, he was discharged. However, the next day he was readmitted with what turned out to be Covid-19 pneumonia. The tests had been false negatives. He improved at Warwick hospital with non-invasive ventilation but was soon transferred to Coventry for dialysis, because the cuts and closures of services meant that the treatment was not available at a smaller hospital.
His condition deteriorated, and this time he was not given ventilation. If the escalating costs of market-driven healthcare, drugs and technology had not created a crisis within the NHS in which lack of capacity means that doctors have to decide between which patients to save, I believe he might have had a fighting chance.
My father was always there for me. When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma a few years ago, he fortified me. And so I am wracked by guilt that I was not there for him in his greatest hour of need. His failed discharge meant that he spent one last night at home. We did not know that he had Covid-19, and my mother noted how he slept peacefully the whole night by her side. Unfortunately, it means that she is now unwell and we cannot grieve together as a family.
I hope that the pain will eventually fade, to be replaced with warm memories of the years spent together. He opened my eyes to the life of the mind and showed me the world by taking us on road trips. Although he is now gone, I sense his presence by my side as a guide. I feel blessed that he lived long enough to see my writing flourish and meet his granddaughter.
But for now, the anger remains. His was one of more than 100,000 avoidable deaths. This catastrophic toll was the product of government failures, including the delayed implementation of necessary lockdowns and travel restrictions, as well as outsourcing an inadequate £22bn test-and-trace system.
Over the last four decades we have witnessed the dismantling of health and social care through cuts and privatisation. Conveniently, it looks as if the NHS is to blame when the perpetual crisis is generated by the disastrous market experiment of private finance initiatives, outsourcing, closures and sell-offs of assets and land. As a doctor, I worry that Covid-19 will provide cover to accelerate this agenda.
The only fitting memorial to my father, and to all those who have died, is to continue the struggle not just for a high-quality public model of health and social care, but to build a better world that works for humanity, rather than for private interests.
In loving memory of Dr Ali El-Gingihy (1932-2021)
For the original article, follow this link https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/30/dad-fighting-chance-nhs-undermined