Testing the NHS – unwillingly

A lot is written about the NHS and its problems, which are undoubtedly significant, but not enough is said in praise of what happens on the front-line.

I have put that to the test this last week.

On doctor’s advice we called 999 (the emergency number) and requested an ambulance. I was short of breath and it was getting worse. A short triage process on the telephone but even so within ten minutes two paramedics were at the door. A few tests, lots of questions, a phone call to the doctor and within 20 minutes I was in the ambulance, breathing oxygen and on the way to hospital.

A 5* score.

A&E was busy. I did not expect to be quickly seen but within 20 minutes I was on a bed in a cubicle. There is clearly a protocol for people with my symptoms and the young nurse explained what she had to do – take blood.  However getting a canula into my arm proved difficult and it was probably ten minutes later before she got what was needed. Then a more experienced nurse took some arterial blood – that was painful. Through it all every kindness was shown and I genuinely sympathise with the young nurse’s inexperience even though I still bear the bruises. We all have to learn. Round to x-ray for a chest x-ray.

A 4.8* score.

Along to a ward, clearly a room used for very short term admission until a more permanent bed is found. An ECG. Young registrar gave a cautious immediate diagnosis – never saw him again. Nice young man. After a couple of hours along to Ward 32 Short Stay. Business-like welcome, insistence on getting oxygen into me, vital observations, fact checking (yes I am diabetic), and with an outside temperature of 29 degrees apologies for the lack of air-conditioning.

Overall a 4.9* score. Only spoiled by the fact that no-one told us that the first ward we went to was an interim situation. It was a single room with its own bathroom – the only time I saw a private one. Shame.

Saturday to Tuesday morning was the tedious bit of finding out what was wrong and sorting it out. The oxygen was clearly helping breathing recover. A CT scan eliminated the possibility of a blood clot and identified some fluid and an infection. Antibiotics, a change of blood pressure medication, discussion with consultant about the heart (ectopic beat, some enlargement)(you knew I was big-hearted) and all the time a steady improvement.

Definitely a 5* score but for the lack of air-conditioning.

But how was I treated? I cannot fault the care of the staff, both for me and the others in the four-bed bay I was in. The younger non-qualified staff were without exception superb. Real empathy, gentle humour, high quality intervention (eg when I forgot to put the oxygen on), and prompt response to situations that arose. They were under-staffed, most shifts down by at least one person it seemed. Most of the qualified nursing staff had the same caring approach, with one exception whose memory colours the whole experience.

I am happy with a 5* score because despite the one exception they were such a strong team they worked around her limitations.

Discharge on Tuesday was unnecessarily prolonged, largely because of delays at pharmacy. It was explained why pharmacy was having a tough time and it seemed that this was the major impact of the current resourcing problems on my stay. From the time the consultant said I could go to the time I actually went was 7 hours. Even this little experience must have placed pressures on the NHS, one problem leading to another etc.  I won’t give a score for discharge.

So what does all this add up to?

Grateful thanks for first class care and admiration for the attitudes and behaviour I experienced. In the context of the whole NHS I have little doubt that my experience can be multiplied thousands of times every day. It is the reality of a people centred system where the real work is done by people at the front-line who care. It is their problems we can solve, patients will benefit from that. These wonderful young staff must be supported.