If everyone went to a particular hospital for certain procedures, others would not be able to

On a visit up north, I was reminded that when you write about something you are frequently considered an apologist for the subject itself. It is one of the perils of journalism.

When I was a construction journalist I spent a lot of time defending my profession against charges of laziness, ineptitude and even corruption. Bizarre as it may sound, this conversation comes up a lot when you date an architect. Now the architect is my husband, the conversational perils are even greater.

Not since the earliest days of foundation hospitals have I been obliged to discuss the NHS with my in-laws, so it was something of a shock to be tackled on the subject of choice one morning.

Why, demanded father-in-law while I was trying to eat my cornflakes, do we have to have choice? Why can he not just go to the hospital down the road if he so wishes?

Well, you can, I said. That is the point of choice. But you could go elsewhere - if you so wish.

I pointed out that a bit of research could tell him which hospital would be able to treat him faster and which had more specialists in the relevant field.

Father-in-law then made the point that if everyone went to a particular hospital for certain procedures, others would not be able to. I conceded that this was indeed a possibility and something that trusts were having to consider.

I said that given the choice of a fancy-pants three-star teaching hospital or a run-down district general hospital, both within the same travelling distance, many would opt for the former.

But why, he demanded, are all hospitals not the same? Why isn't eveywhere a fancy teaching hospital?

I confess that here I felt all I could do was splutter that life is not fair and that, anyway, I do not create the policies, I only write about them. And with a profound sense of relief I was allowed to return to my cornflakes.