Pharmacies in my neck of the woods often have large posters that proclaim: 'In (insert name of somewhat notorious London borough) NHS patients can usually choose where to have their treatment' in their windows.
I have not read the posters' small print but thought it would be interesting to test the theory. I wasn't in a hurry to be ill, you understand, but after four years of writing this column, new material always comes in handy.
And lo, I finally got the opportunity. Not that I got pregnant purely to try out patient choice but it will no doubt come in handy for filling this column with some real-life NHS experience.
Now, I think I know the NHS system fairly well. I know what I'm entitled to and I am not one to have the wool pulled over my eyes. But as I'm sure many of you are well aware, there is something about being a patient that disempowers you. As I found out.
Spoilt for choice
There I was at the GP's, fully expecting I would be able to plan to have the baby at the hospital of my choice - one I would choose as much for its convenient location as for its reputation and facilities.
But having been informed of my new status, the GP said that I could have a choice of three hospitals. I won't name names so as to protect the innocent but I wouldn't have chosen hospital A over my dead body (too far away, can't stand the place), likewise hospital B (miles away). My favoured hospital was not on the list because, said the GP: "We don't have links with it."
"It's only down the road," spluttered I, supposedly smug in the knowledge that a friend living in the same PCT patch had her baby there just last year. But the GP remained unmoved so hospital C (pretty much unknown by me, not particularly easy to get to from home or work) it apparently had to be.
In response to this I went home and sulked. But all was saved when a kindly midwife I met through professional duties told me I could self refer wherever I liked. A phone call or two later and soon Mr Dent and I were staring open mouthed at a screen showing us a scan of our baby at the hospital of our choice. Patient power, it's a wonderful thing.