Thursday, 6 March 2014

My ninety year old mother is in hospital.  In fact, unfortunately she became ill with pneumonia on her 90th birthday. Much of my week so far has been spent in A&E at a hospital some 45 minutes’ drive from my own home.  The deterioration from having a “bit of a cold” and staying in bed to the refusal of her organs to combat the illness was fast and furious; a matter of minutes. One moment I was fixing up a house-call from the GP and the next dialling 999.

I hate hospitals – even though I’ve spent a good amount of time in them during the last few years.  Actually that’s probably not accurate – to be more precise, I should say that  I dislike hospitals intensely.  I am scared of doing something wrong, contaminating something – I guess that comes from my OCD tendencies but I also guess that it makes me one of the right sort of visitors, because I do wash my hands and I do use the hand-gel.

So I’ve spent the last couple of days observing the NHS as its busiest, at its best, but also at its most lacking common sense.  For a start, to get to the ward – Clinical Decisions Unit – designed only for short assessment stays, the shortest distance is straight through A&E triage! Everyone appears to use the route and if you ask a porter he’ll direct you that way on the basis that CDU is part of A&E.  If you ask for directions to a toilet from the A&E-side reception, you’re directed via the waiting room into the innermost corner of the rather small space.  Even a primary school student could have designed it better.

They could also have designed better the way-finding system which is the worst I have ever experienced.  I set out each time – I’ve done it seven times so far – to find CDU without taking that A&E shortcut and on only two occasions have I managed to land in the right place without asking someone to help me.  I've Googled the hospital map, but it is absolutely no help and doesn’t list CDU!

What about the care? – I hear you ask. Well, it is good but my overwhelming memory will be people in uniform walking about with pieces of paper.  Lowry would have given a very good interpretation – lots of matchstick men and women, with lanyards, badges, different uniforms, all trudging somewhat despondently – that’s the predominant stance – trudging round the place with their pieces of paper.  Of course, that’s when they’re not hanging over reception desks waiting to speak to someone at the other end of the phone.

The food? What can I say? It’s hospital food.
The illustration here passes for an evening meal. Albeit mum chose it, but tinned fruit must have the minimum of nutrition. The white break sandwich was chicken with sage and onion stuffing with mayonnaise. How on earth that could be described as a balanced meal without even a leaf of lettuce to mitigate it, I have no idea.

I would so love to change the NHS culture.  It wouldn’t cost much but I think it would bring amazing changes to the outcomes. 

  1. Fresh fruit delivered in very small packets to all patients able to eat. I saw yesterday how mum perked up after a piece of real fruit. The body absorbs fruit sugars very easily; they’re like instant pick-me-ups. 

  2. Eye shields to obscure the light which pervades even at the dead of night, and ear muffs to deaden the interminable ringing bells, banging bin lids, rolling beds, staff gossip and all the other unfortunate noises which make sleep so difficult. If you don’t get sleep you can’t heal.
  3. Vitamin D for all who spend any more than 48 hours in these airless artificially-lit rooms. You don’t see daylight when you’re in a hospital bed, but I know from my experience this winter just how essential this vitamin is and the beneficial effects I felt within days of first taking it.

  4. High dose Vitamin C - won’t do any harm and I have a strong suspicion it would do a whole lot of good for those admitted on generally poor diets.

I have no doubts that just these little changes would more than pay for themselves in more successful outcomes.

And just to top that, I would insist that everyone working for the NHS conducted themselves with a sense of purpose, a smile, picked their feet up and didn’t trudge wearily. If they did I reckon everyone would feel a great deal better.

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