Earlier this week, Rishi Sunak paid a flying visit to a health centre in Leeds.
Shirt sleeves tastefully rolled, tie tucked in, he exuded fake sympathy for NHS workers. His paltry pay offer was “fair and reasonable”.
A few miles away, on the front line, I was in the Intensive Care Unit of Leeds General Infirmary. In bed, immobile, a line in each arm.
Doctors at Airedale Hospital sent me there after a resurgence of the aortic dissection that nearly carried me off last May.
It was, to say the least, a different vantage point to view the NHS crisis. The real thing, not for the TV cameras.
And what a sight. Young nurses doing three 12-and-a- half-hour back-to-back night shifts. Tending patients, emptying stinking bed pans and pongy urine bottles.
While Tory politicians dined at Westminster, here was an all-night vigil for the desperately ill. Lights dimmed, conversation murmured. Ghostly figures in PPE moving around in the half light.
Later, they transferred me to a vascular ward, in a room with three other men. A busier scene, more players, but the same work ethic.
In the next bed, a 65-year-old former electrician had a leg amputated in the middle of the night. As nurses fussed round, he joked, with admirable graveyard humour, “I’ve just lost a good friend.”
Across the aisle, a surgeon quietly explained to a 70-something how he planned to save his life from a poisoned foot.
Orderlies brought food to the beds, nurses came with medication and tests for blood pressure, physios came by to advise on how best to stay well after discharge.
In the pre-dawn darkness, lit only by a bedside reading lamp, a trainee nurse fitted a drip to a patient. Another took my blood pressure every two hours, gently waking me. A frail old man was helped into a chair.
And at handover time before breakfast, they gathered together at the nurses’ station, twittering away like a flock of happy starlings.
“Hello, Trouble!” one young lass greeted a friend coming on shift. It was just an ordinary hospital scene, but rewarding for all that. I think you see the best of people in these settings. Always courteous, always understanding,always a kind word.
How do they do it, day after day, week after week, year after year?
No wonder so many of them give in and quit the job. I couldn’t do it, and nor could Rich Rishi. And it’s workers like these – mostly women – that the Tories want to crush.
People like paramedics Matt and Tikka, who gave up their lunch break to take me in the emergency ambulance to Leeds, through driving rain and heavy traffic.
I asked Tikka if she had a message for Rishi Sunak. “Stop your photo opportunities, and spend 24 hours doing a NHS job! Then you’ll understand.”
Quite right, but what irony. Neither of us could know that the Prime Minister would be in the city the very next day doing just what she told him not to do: hitting the political tourism trail in search of his lost credibility.
I was discharged last night, with a new regime of drugs to counteract high blood pressure that causes Type B aortic dissection.
Safely home again, but I won’t forget those decent, committed workers, or the wonderful job they do against the odds.