Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tales from the NHS frontline

Let's name and shame. We're talking here about St Helier Hospital in south London - an eyesore of a building and a place you certainly wouldn't want to go if you had a sore eye.

My father-in-law was there this week for a painful procedure on a tear duct, which is done under local anaesthetic. His situation is complicated by the fact that he's profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant -a kind of bionic ear that costs twenty or thirty grand to purchase and fit. It's sensitive equipment which can be easily upset by the use of certain surgical implements.

Dad-in-law arrives on the operating table and asks the surgeon whether he's read any of the blurb that's been supplied about the rather expensive cochlear device. It turns out he hasn't, so he disappears for a few minutes, leaving his patient somewhat bewildered and annoyed. On his return, the doc says he can't foresee any particular problems but it's agreed that it's probably best to cover up the implant with a bandage.

At the end of the op, a nurse comes along and removes the bandage and chucks it in the surgical waste. Suddenly my father-in-law's world goes eerily quiet and there's a realisation that this medical professional has just thrown the equivalent of her annual salary in the bin along with a load of swabs and assorted detritus. If I'm being completely fair, I suppose that most of the money is actually related to the electrodes implanted inside the head. But she has managed to chuck away the part which allows that technology to work. There follows a lot of rummaging. One cochlear receiver is retrieved and handed directly back to the patient. It's not even given a clean, although the hospital's PR machine is keen to trumpet its success at cutting MRSA and prioritising infection control.

Believe me, I am not someone who believes in bashing the NHS. I have an excellent local surgery in south-west London, where the standard of care and professionalism is first-class. But I do believe in speaking out when something's not right. Particularly when elderly or disabled people are involved, along with a big wedge of taxpayers' money.

My only previous experience of St Helier was taking my younger daughter there a couple of years ago with painful foot after some amateur dance show at my in-laws' house. The casualty doctors said she'd broken a bone and plastered her up. Two days later, we saw a specialist who said the cast could come off because there was actually no break shown on the x-ray at all.

Doctors in A&E who are plastering unbroken legs? If I exhibited a similar level of incompetence in my own world of self-employment, I wouldn't get any work. My clients would go elsewhere. This is a luxury that many clients of the NHS unfortunately don't have.

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