Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Between the Lines

The total institution of Somerset Maugham

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 29 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3738
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

In the days of the old Soviet Union, hospitals (at least when I visited them) had an air of inspissated pointlessness. This had its attractions: no one rushed around, indeed the corridors were mainly empty both of people and equipment. The patients, many of whom seemed scarcely to be ill, lay in bed in small, overheated wards, where fresh air never entered. They were more like residents of a boarding house than patients in a hospital. There appeared to be no pretence either of investigating their illness or of trying to cure it. They had nothing to do but talk philosophy all day, as in a Russian novel of the 19th century, and if the physical conditions …

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