Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Thank You NHS

No posts for a while – here’s why:

Ironically after my previous post - I ended up being taken into hospital with a suspected stroke. Thankfully it wasn’t - just a virus of the inner ear that fucked up my balance, which in conjunction with my high blood pressure gave the symptoms of the stroke. Not having seen a doctor fro 15 years I didn’t know about the blood pressure – I do now. So along with all the tests and brain scans I’ve had over the past few days I can take it as a positive that I’ve had a thorough MOT and 10,000 mile service.

In the course of my stay in hospital I have pretty much run the full gamut of emotions from terror to contemplation of the state of the NHS at the sharp end.

At one point when I thought I was having a stroke - and possibly a fatal one at that – I did think it was the end. It’s said that there are no atheists in foxholes – however I can honestly say that isn’t true. As my body felt it was literally about to explode my thoughts were possibly predictable and clichéd but I did not turn to an imaginary maker. I felt that I wasn’t ready to die; I thought about my loved ones (although I also strangely felt overwhelmingly alone at the same time) and I regretted that I hadn’t been a better person, but there was absolutely no spiritual moment for me.

(Interestingly though I can now understand why our ancestors thought that trepanning was a good idea …)

The NHS ? Well I suppose as an emergency medical service it would be grossly ungrateful to say that it was nothing short of superb – the doctors were excellent throughout and I shudder to think at the cost of the CT and MRI scans .

In every other respect though I would have to say the NHS was found desperately wanting: Machines were constantly being borrowed from ward to ward because they were broken and there was no one to mend them. There were simply never enough nurses. I had to wait a stressful three days for my MRI scan, which was actually a mobile unit on a truck trailer in the hospital car park (outsourced from a private health company).

The nurses were ill-equipped in every respect to do their job. Most were committed to doing their best for their patients but still in the main failed them – hemmed in by protocols and working procedures that went out from other industries thirty years ago. The result was endless arguments between themselves as to whose job it was to perform any given task.

Many patients were rude and aggressive to the staff and this attitude was returned, not helped in many cases with language issues and cultural misunderstanding. This creates a vicious circle were it seems that only the stroppy and demanding survive.

Certainly this applied to the vulnerable, the elderly and the confused. In the opposite bed to me I watched an old man with althzhiemer’s die of cancer over the weekend. A sad and lonely way to end a life. The nursing staff could not make his wife understand that this was the end and that she should consider taking him home and so he died alone with little dignity.

Tragedy was then rendered into farce when one of the many teams of doctors attending him turned up the next day only to be told by the next shift of nursing staff that he had been discharged home. Another patient was lost overnight when he went out for a smoke and decided to discharge himself. Rather than call security or call the patient’s family the nurses dithered about for hours and then phoned the junior doctor at home. Another patient managed, though some mis-communication, to go unseen by any doctor for four days.

I still believe that the NHS is the finest achievement of the labour movement.

And to be around an organisation whose sole raison d’etre is to help people as opposed to making money (the word I live in most of the time) is inspiring and a small glimpse of what socialism might look like one day.

There’s a lot wrong with it of course: One of the main activities of all staff, at pretty much every level, seems to be wandering about with handfuls of paper looking for things or people who aren’t there. The manager in me can see that all those things that have transformed most organisations have passed the health service by – flatter hierarchies, more transparency for users (patients), more empowered staff and the liberating effect of information technology for starters.

It’s not just about more money, but more money would be a start. And I know this isn’t original; but we could start talking about reforms when they are collecting for tanks and missiles on street corners rather than kidney machines – or MRI units.

But most of all – I am just ridiculously happy to be alive.

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