A cautionary tale from Norman Lamb

One day last year Norman Lamb woke up in his London flat with double vision, which did not clear. According to this newspaper story, he called his sister who is a GP, and she advised him to go to A&E immediately.

When he got there he was sent to the eye clinic for eye tests after which the staff told him that there was nothing wrong. But when he rang his sister again she feared a brain tumour. She told him not to leave the hospital but to go along to the neurovascular department. Once there he had an MRI brain scan and was told he’d had a minor ischaemic stroke.

The Stroke Association’s website advises that ‘sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes’ indicates a potential stroke.

‘I’m articulate enough and confident enough to go back and challenge what I’d been told,’ he says.

‘But there are many who wouldn’t have a GP sister to advise them, so there was a lot of luck in my stroke even being diagnosed. That worries me.’

Norman was treated by Professor Tony Rudd, the national clinical director for strokes at NHS England.

‘If you’ve had a stroke like that, the risk of having another is higher, but can be significantly reduced by medication and lifestyle changes,’ says Professor Rudd, who prescribed clopidogrel, an aspirin-like drug, to reduce the risk of clotting, and precautionary statins to lower Norman’s cholesterol (although it wasn’t particularly high).

The experience has left Norman making some adjustments to his lifestyle, because he believes that overwork and lack of sleep may have contributed to his stroke.

‘I feel an increased sense of vulnerability and anxiety — and I still wonder whether I’m going to wake up with double vision,’ says Norman, who would like to see every stroke clinic provide access to psychological support.

‘I don’t think we as a nation give people the psychological support — the holistic care — that they very often need after having such a health scare.’

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • This story illustrates how the NHS doesn’t work well and fails particularly badly at diagnosis. This is something that those of us in the UK from other European countries are well aware of, but for British natives the NHS is close to a religion and the only problem with it is that it needs more money. My sister, who is an NHS consultant at a leading teaching hospital, after having worked as a consultant in another European country, says that the NHS is failing every day because of the poor quality of many GPs (many of whom are working only part time and lack experience) and their inability to do differential diagnosis. Of course, middle class people like Norman Lamb and myself have doctors in the family (at last count, in addition to my sister I have an aunt, an uncle and seven cousins). But what about the rest of the population?

  • I agree with Norman Lamb, Rob Cannon and several others with more knowledge and experience of the NHS.
    I know that at best it is equaled by none.
    But too often people have sad stories even those who have worked in the NHS are faced with a closed door, when asking for basic screening or NHS care.
    When the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was moved from Euston to UCLH, we were told patients would continue to be seen from UCLH. This did not happen and people were not called nor could they go to UCLH.
    The Eastman Dental Hosp does not take referred patients even with severe peridontal disease. What do they do if they cannot help the nation preserve their teeth? The frustration should not be towards Norman Lamb, these are NHS failings.

  • “The Stroke Association’s website advises that ‘sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes’ indicates a potential stroke.”

    Or it could be something else, such as Optic Neuritis, as it was in my case.

  • Geoffrey Dron 24th Aug '19 - 9:07pm

    Considerable sympathy as my wife suffered an attack of Bell’s Palsy last week – similar symptoms to stroke. when ambulance turned up (6 hours from report) the paramedics correctly ‘diagnosed’ the reality and this was confirmed by proper diagnosis at A&E.

    Anyway, I’d like to put in a plea for strengthening of national and local healthwatch, one of few good areas of reform in 2012 reforms but not adequate as stands. LibDems should support?

  • Geoffrey Dron 27th Aug '19 - 3:14pm


    A peerage, I’d hope. We need his expertise in health and social care.

    The Lansley reforms have, in general, proved a mess, but we can’t afford more half-baked measures. This time, we must get it right.

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