Most of us have become familiar with the term Postcode Lottery being applied to certain aspects of our beloved NHS:
Sufferer: “Can I have anti-cancer drug A?”
NHS representative: “I don’t know, where do you live?”
… is the kind of thing. I think it maybe something to do with Primary Care Trusts, whatever the hell they are.
However, this morning I discovered the Postcode Lottery‘s partner game of chance, also being run by the NHS, the Birthdate Lottery. This came about because Carol and I are soon to visit a household where one of the occupants is currently suffering from an attack of shingles. She’s been given some antibiotics, which I don’t understand against a viral infection but and that’s another issue – a Spanish issue, in fact. Anyway, Carol pipes up with, “I think there’s a vaccination available against shingles; phone the doc and ask”.
I obeyed, furthermore I eventually got through to the receptionists. Here’s how the Birthdate Lottery works.
Receptionist: “Hello, how can I help?
Hopeful Patient: “I understand there is a shingles vaccination available.”
Receptionist: “It depends how old you are, you have to be 70 or 79 within certain dates.”
Confused Patient: “Surely you mean I have to be between 70 and 79?” [The patient is much too young anyway but now his interest was piqued.]
Receptionist: “No, for the shingles vaccination it is quite specific – 70 or 79.”
Gobsmacked Patient: “That’s very strange. It doesn’t apply to us anyway. Thank you for your help.”
The Gobsmacked Patient, now assuming the rôle of Disbelieving Patient, resorted to that modern marvel, the Internet, to check this seemingly unbelievable requirement. He quickly found an NHS web page entitled “Shingles Vaccination” under an amusing main banner heading of “Choices – your health your choices”. The page superficially begins hopefully enough with:
A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease is now available on the NHS to certain people in their 70s.
… hopefully except for that worrying little word certain – what’s that doing there?
Unbelievable though the receptionist’s information had sounded, the very next paragraph says precisely the same in unambiguous black and white:
The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection for anyone aged 70 or 79.
There it is again: or, not between but or.
Perhaps as a sort of sales pitch to encourage those with the right birthdate to take up the vaccination offer, a little less-than-comforting information about the disease is offered:
Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. And shingles is fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.
[In our currently gobsmacked state, we’ll gloss over the beginning of a sentence with a conjunction.]
Further down the page we see the specificity to which the receptionist had referred:
Shingles vaccination is offered routinely as part of the NHS vaccination programme for people aged 70 or 79. The first people to have the vaccine will be those aged 70 or 79 on September 1 2013.
What an interesting date cut-off. The page continues:
If you were aged 70 or 79 on September 1 2013 but become 71 or 80 before attending for vaccination, you will still be able to have the shingles vaccine.
Very generous! Now for the worst bit of the lottery:
If you are aged 71 to 78 on September 1 2013, your next opportunity to have the shingles vaccine will be after you have reached the age of 79.
Right, so having just spelled out the fact that shingles is painful and that 1 in 1000 over-70 sufferers die from it, those who had the misfortune to be 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, or 78 on September 1 2013 are shit out of luck and will just have to run the gauntlet of contracting shingles, followed by potentially suffering years of pain, until they become 79 – assuming, of course, that they don’t contract shingles and become one of those 1 in 1000 fatalities. Great!