IN the space of six months I’ve gone from marble-lined clinics with corridors worthy of five-star hotels and bedrooms of almost similar stature. I’ve had meals served on fine china with the tenderest of meats and good wine to accompany them. On Sundays and fete days an aperitif is also served and breakfast has an added chocolatine or croissant. Seasonal fresh fruit is served after a variety of soft and hard cheese. with different breads

I’ve left every appointment and scan with the same information given to my doctors and specialists – owned by me as the client not just as an irritating patient.

Dieticians, psychologists, teams of physios and other experts meet weekly to coordinate my treatment and to discuss home care if needed.

My carte vitale, originally paid to the French by the UK Government from my years of payment, is a sort of smart-card billing all services.

Top up insurances are commonplace but not necessary as the system is regarded as offering one of the best services of public health care in the world.

It provides universal cover for every citizen irrespective of wealth, age or social standing.

It is obligatory to contribute depending on salary and central government funding. I now pay through my self-employed social charges taken direct from my bank.

Public and private hospitals, specialists, doctors all work between services, being paid separately.

To be honest I never thought much about the public hospitals as x-rays etc were always in the clinics where coffee and biscuits were offered by a smiling receptionist while waiting.

No wonder my view of the system was somewhat starry eyed. Of course, I was aware that, as in other parts of the world, the edifice was creaking under the weight of an increasing elderly population, drug costs, dwindling staff and too much work expected for too little pay, but it didn’t impinge upon my rarefied world. Until now.

The public hospital at Montauban is a sprawling barracks of a place concealing a warren of carved up small rooms and narrow corridors where stretchers hit every corner adding daily to the scuff marks of decades.

This is no smooth, soothing faux rich man’s escape from mortality; this is the real, rough edge of medicine and life and death.

Medicine is generic even if you’ve come with your own prescription. Pharmacists rule the roost and down in some basement scuttle hole they tot up figures to save the State centimes.

Like the medication, the food is generic too….a cheap version, where cream cheese is chalk, the meat grizzled lumps and vegetables pulped into 1950s-style English mush.

Shell shocked on many levels, on my few days back to Valence, I asked why little sensitive me was subjected to such well, roughness. Come on, you know how shallow I can be...

Very easily – said the doctor – I consider them the best team. All hospitals work to the same protocol; gather as a team and decide as a team but obviously the implication was, like chefs, it’s more than the ingredients at play.

I asked the senior man leading my team here: why work in the public hospital when he could name his price in the private sector? He seemed to look at me as if weighing up whether I deserved the true answer. Finally, he said: ‘Because I believe in it.’

And I believe in him.

In both sectors, though, as in the UK, it’s the nurses and the aides who physically bear the strain of the understaffing and the unpaid extra hours.

Over the months I’ve seen the circles deepen under the eyes, the tiny lines fan out, the mouths tighten at the corners as a retort is held back.

I’ve watched them ignore their knocking off time to comfort a frightened patient when I knew they had anniversary plans for the night.

I’ve seen them return animated again from too brief holidays and watched the laughter die in a matter of days.

No, they’re not angels – a few are real sods bordering on sadistic, frankly – but they have a drive and a purpose and deserve more respect than their bosses give them.

As in the UK, the French take great pride in their health service and want no change. As in the UK they accept that it cannot continue as it is.

And as in the UK – they cannot see a solution. Certainly, in France sell off is not an option. Who can say the same for the NHS?

There has always been more uniting us than dividing; even our compassion or particularly our compassion.

But compassion doesn’t make for big bucks and certainly Brexit doesn’t make for compassion.