24 years ago on Good Friday my father had a heart attack and was taken into hospital. He died a few days later leaving me with the strong feeling that he was failed by the NHS because it was holiday time and the hospital was not staffed the way it would have been during a normal week. Instead there seemed to be a large number of young inexperienced doctors and no Consultant.
Naturally it has left me with a feeling of inadequacy. I was unable to influence things at the time and that when my father needed me most I was unable to look after him. Such thoughts are futile of course but understandable. I didn’t ask all the right questions nor push hard for the things that might have made a difference. Back then most of us were just not used to making a fuss. At such times we put our complete trust in the nurses and doctors and did not question their judgement. Knowledge and experience are valuable commodities at such times and I like to think I am better equipped now.
It seems I am far from alone in these concerns and feelings. It was not too long ago that businessman Gerry Robinson made a series of programmes on trouble shooting big organisations. He looked at the way hospitals are run and at the time made a number of insightful suggestions about the particular hospital that he was using as his test case. I seem to recall that he had considerable trouble trying to get the operating theatres fully used throughout the night time and weekends, despite the long waiting lists. The causes were largely administrative and the arrogance and lack of cooperation from the professionals.
Much of our world today runs on a 24/7 basis supermarkets, banking, online shopping, services which we don’t often need to access immediately but do so for our own convenience. Hospital health care is very different. Sometimes we need it immediately and it is not always through the route of A&E.
Recently I read of one case where an elderly lady, admitted as an in-patient for a relatively minor operation, declined rapidly in the ensuing 24 hours. The junior doctor at the time explained that her underlying cancer was almost certainly the cause and that she would be unlikely to live throughout the next 36 hours. It was a Sunday and the Consultant was not in the hospital but on holiday. The junior doctor displayed a “shrug of the shoulders” attitude, seemingly preferring to let a patient die than disturb the holiday of a Consultant. Dogged persistence with help from some of the similarly concerned nursing staff led to the Consultant, who was on call, returning to the hospital. He immediately realised that the essential medication normally taken by the patient had been stopped for the operation and not re-started again. The elderly lady, I am assured, would certainly have died over the next few hours. She lived to tell the tale.
I wish I had shown similar dogged determination 24 years ago. If a similar thing happened again then I like to think I would. However, I also like to think that 24 years later it wouldn’t be necessary but something tells me it might.