Published: 19/08/2004, Volume II4, No. 5919 Page 22

Home from the hols to find the usual suspects in the media having a go at the NHS for mishandling the unveiling of the five-in-one jab. While they're about it, a YouGov poll suggests patients are also unhappy with the recent reforms in GPs' hours and practice habits.

Surprise, surprise.

But the White family holiday finally gave me the time to crossexamine my daughter-in-law about her own recent experience at the hands of the NHS as she improved her new skills base (motherhood). It may be relevant.

To get quickly to the point, Wendy's treatment was excellent.

All her plans to have a drug-free alternative birth quickly went by the board and, after 40 hours of fairly futile pushing, she ended up having a Caesar.

That was exactly what she didn't want, but the consultant (male) talked her through it and brought in his boss (female) to explain again.

'Everyone wanted to make sure I felt cared for, ' she reports.

Since young Joshua weighed in at a hefty 9 lb 14 oz it was obviously the right thing to do; the more so since the wriggly boy had managed to tie his chord into a true knot, not a smart start to life.

Nearly 30 years ago his father did the same - and in the same hospital too, Queen Charlotte's in west London, though it has migrated a couple of miles in the interval.

Fortunately Joe was also a last-minute Caesar.

Father and son are both doing well.

Coincidentally my wife was in a different London hospital at the same time for a minor operation ('a plumbing job' as I put it in my rough way) and makes the same point. 'You felt cared for. The food wasn't too bad either, ' Pat says.Medical staff explained procedures and were available on the phone if needed after she got home. 'I didn't feel hurried.'

Each bed had a multi-channel TV (including Al Jazeera TV, so she claims) with radio and phone. There was even a laptop option. All very modern, as you would expect in the Chelsea and Westminster. But Pat had been advised to take her own antiseptic soap and be on guard for MRSA-style infections.

No problem there either: everything seemed clean.

Grandma White, an experienced manager, feels that NHS staff now seem 'much better trained than they used to be in customer care; it went very smoothly'.

What may be relevant to The Daily Telegraph's routine anxieties about GPs is that both Mrs Whites were struck by the impact that personal behaviour has on a patient's treatment and their perception of it. If you are polite, you get a better response. If you get chippy, staff can get chippy too.

No surprise there either, but Wendy White noticed that well-to-do American friends in her anti-natal class expected to be 'treated worse because We are Americans' and were confirmed in their prejudice.

At the other end of the economic scale were some poor black families on Wendy's ward who felt the rule limiting visitors to two at a time was unfair - and would not comply. Of course there is a variable factor here which often depends on the patient's social class, education, and (very important in any multi-ethnic London hospital) understanding of English.

If your only language is Farsi it is not easy to grasp why the midwives are being tough on you for your own and baby's good.

Wendy, by the way, is an ethnic Chinese, a highly-educated one.

It so happens that she was present when her friend Dara gave birth last year in an expensive Boston hospital. 'Much more interventionist, more more risk-averse, ' she says. But Dara had felt neglected. Perhaps new mums do.

When we were on holiday Wendy had a breast infection. Our French neighbour, Veronique, took her to the (private) GP who referred her to the local small town (public) hospital on a Saturday afternoon.

The on-call gynaecologist came in on his bike in jeans, initially a little grumpy, but he did an ultrasound and issued antibiotics. All is well. The whole thing cost 20 (£15) cash and she was given E111 forms to cover the rest.

'Everyone was very kind.'

So there you have it. A wide range of experience.

But in an age of high expectation it is attitude that can make the difference to how you feel.