This article was published in 2022, in Magazine 154.
My GP wanted me to get a blood test.
Doc: Unfortunately our phlebotomist is off sick this week, are you all right with going into Cambridge?
Doc: They’ve got a test centre at the Newmarket Road Park & Ride, near the ice rink. That’s the best one because you can just turn up without an appointment. Do you know where that is?
Me: Yes. Can I go there by bike?
Doc looks surprised but then looks out of the window and sees the wintery sun shining: Err yes, that should be OK. They’re open till 4:30pm.
So I pedal off after lunch. I have a pleasant ride alongside the Busway to Cambridge North, wiggle down to the towpath, over the lovely new Chisholm Trail bridge, across Ditton Meadows, most of the route entirely off road. I get there about 3:30. But it’s a DRIVE-THROUGH. Fairly quiet, there are just two cars queuing so I fall in behind them. A marshal comes up to me.
Marshal: Are you here for a blood test?
Me: Yes, my GP sent me.
Marshal: Well, you can’t get a test unless you’re in a car. Can you go home and get a taxi?
Me: I’ve cycled 12 miles to get here. My GP said it would be OK.
Marshal: Well, we’ve been here for 18 months, you’d have thought the GPs would know the drill by now.
Me: Is there anyone inside I could talk to?
Marshal on her walkie talkie to her manager: We’ve got a bloke, cycled 12 miles to get here. Can you come and speak to him?
The manager comes out.
Me: I’ve come from Over. Is there any way I can get a test here?
Manager: Sorry, you can’t cycle through the drive-through. Your alternative is to go to Addenbrooke’s, but you’d need an appointment for that. That’s not really in the right direction for you, is it?
She thinks a bit, and looks at me crossly.
Well, I’m only going to do this once – don’t come back. As it’s quiet, I’ll go and get my car, and drive you through.
With that, she goes and gets her car, probably breaking all the rules, I get in the front passenger seat, and she drives me 20 metres to Lane 5. The phlebotomist gets out of his kiosk, comes round to the passenger side and gets me to stick my arm out of the window. He gets back to the kiosk with his samples, and asks for my date of birth.
I tell him the date in 1949, at which, the manager looks at me in disbelief and says: No. Really? – Maybe I should get a bike.
At the time, I thought: Result! But it isn’t a result really, for us to have a facility like that which you can’t go to by bike. In Cambridge. For me, the experience threw into stark contrast the difference between on the one hand, the angels who work on the front line of the NHS, trying to follow their vocation to serve their community, and on the other hand, people who devise schemes like this without any consideration of local conditions and their political masters who tell them what to do. Maybe it was different 18 months ago when they set these test centres up, but none of us was vaccinated then. The level of risk is so much lower now. Why on earth are they not more responsive to the needs of local people?