IT TURNS out, completely unexpectedly, I have spent the best part of the festive holidays in and out of the NHS – from treatment for minor illness to an emergency dash to A&E with a family member three days before Christmas, and an emergency ambulance call-out with another two days later.

Getting access promptly to the help needed was a stress-filled challenge, not unlike the ‘find your way out of the maze’ game in a Christmas cracker.

From ‘NHS Pharmacy first’ resulting in being sent back to the surgery to wait a day for a telephone appointment, to accessing nursing through CTAC, or 111, with long periods in telephone queues (with excruciating music) before repeating the same details to the next professional voice – after several triage conversations, we eventually reached East Lothian Community Hospital in Haddington, where we needed to attend.

READ MORE: Mary Contini column: A battle against addictive foods

On another occasion, advised to ‘go straight to A&E’ in our own transport, we experienced an overcrowded, unhygienic A&E waiting area, sitting in pain for upwards of five to six hours while our ‘emergency’ was placed into the queuing system.

One extremely busy area corralled patient with sickness, injuries, severe and minor ailments, some, perhaps, who should not have been there, leaving in frustration, “waiting is not worth the bother”.

In another situation, when the on-call GP arranged for an emergency ambulance for a life-threatening condition, it arrived five hours later than expected.

I am unequivocally grateful that the treatment, care and professionalism we experienced was exceptional on each occasion. The staff generosity and goodwill under clear pressure and excessive workload, along with their kindness, good humour and professionalism, made the medical experiences bearable.

READ MORE: Mary Contini column: The positive effect of immigration

Not one complained that they were clearly short of staff or that their own festivities were on hold. We were in awe of their selflessness.

The pressures imposed on those working in our invaluable National Health Service are extreme.

Where government spends our money is a political decision. Political leaders and managers must listen to staff and patients’ concerns and act to take it off life support.