Portnoy rages at UK health service

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Former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy has kicked off an angry debate about the UK’s National Health Service after reporting he’d had to leave an Accident & Emergency ward without being treated.

He apologised to fans attending his London show with the Neal Morse Band yesterday afternoon, saying he wouldn’t be able to appear at the planned meet-and-greet because he was feeling ill.

But he later posted a furious statement on Facebook after leaving hospital before receiving medical attention ahead of the concert.

Portnoy said: “A very special no thanks to the staff at the Whittington Hospital for not seeing me, regardless of telling them that there is an audience waiting for our show to begin. I finally left without seeing a doctor in order to make tonight’s show.

“I have no idea how the hell I’m going to make it through this show. I can’t even stand up or lift my arms.”

His comment has received more than 2000 responses in under 12 hours – including one from a doctor who works at Whittington’s A&E, who’s also a Portnoy fan.

Elliott Cheng said: “As much as I’d jump at the opportunity to help you if I was on call tonight, please try to understand. Us healthcare professionals don’t want anyone to wait or suffer at all – however we encounter life-threatening conditions every hour, sometimes every minute, that stop us from seeing others that may be slightly less unwell as quickly as we’d like.

“The NHS is under-financed, understaffed, overworked. We do have to economise our resources. With all the respect I have for you, it hurts when one of my idols insults an organisation I work very hard for. Waiting sucks, I know – but dying patients suck even more.”

Health service quality is a hot political issue in the UK. It’s paid for through National Insurance payments taken from citizens’ wages, but some feel not enough is being spent on frontline provision. Others argue that the service model is outdated and fails to provide value for money, and must work harder under tighter budgets.

Whittington Hospital, which serves 500,000 people, is under pressure to deliver a faster A&E turnaround. The government has set a target for all hospitals to treat 95% of patients within four hours, but recent figures suggest it only manages 84%. Its website opens with an appeal to “use alternative services if your condition is not life-threatening.”

Portnoy fans were split over the issue. One pointed out: “It’s not about skipping the line because he’s famous – he wanted to be seen in order to not let the audience at the show down.”

One said: “Sorry for your illness, but you shouldn’t get better treatment because you are a famous musician. Get over yourself already.”

And another suggested: “I think everyone would understand if you had to get a replacement. Don’t try and play if your body won’t let you.”

Others commented that, despite Portnoy’s statement, he would have been assessed by a medial professional on arrival through the triage system, and his waiting time would have been based on the severity of his condition.

The drummer didn’t provide details of his illness but managed to perform the show at the Islington Assembly Hall. Mainman Morse said on Facebook it had been “a weird day” dealing with Portnoy’s illness, but later added: “Mike played like a champ!” The band continue their European tour in Belgium tonight and remain on the road until March 14, in support of latest album The Grand Experiment.