Monday, May 05, 2008

Can you wonder why I have doubts about my Hip Op

“I am sorry to say that I would have to be very, very ill and in incredible pain, before anyone could persuade me to go back to Medway Hospital for more treatment.”

What follows is a true story and is an indictment of the way in which parts of the National Health Service are managed. The story raises a number of important questions, including: What is the point of pumping ever more money into the NHS if poor management allows some of the practices mentioned in the story to persist?

The story came to me in the form of a letter, which I reprint almost verbatim because it shows that the complaint was made more in sorrow than anger. It is worth pointing out that I hear many similar stories about poor treatment at Medway Hospital, but this particular complaint epitomises the bulk of those stories.

The letter is headed: Six Days At Medway Hospital and has been changed slightly to protect the identity of the complainant, who wishes to remain anonymous.


‘I presented myself promptly at 7 am on Tuesday morning at P.O.C.U. (Pre Op. Care Unit). Had I thought to pronounce P.O.C.U. as an acronym perhaps a due sense of foreboding would have hit me!

‘However, having been informed I was “first on the list”, I answered questions, had my temperature and blood pressure taken, changed into a gown and packed my clothes for transfer.

‘AT about 8.30 am I was wheeled to the operating theatre only to be told that someone had forgotten to turn on the heating. So, I waited while various other patients arrived and then departed to their assigned theatres.

‘Eventually we were off to the theatre! Full speed ahead and don’t spare the horses!

‘In the anaesthetics room, I offered the back of my right hand, as usual, only to have my left hand taken. A needle was pushed in bursting the vein, at which time my right hand was accepted after all.

‘My next memory was of the recovery ward, of drifting in and out of consciousness, being asked how I was and then transferred to my designated ward.

‘On the ward I remember various faces appearing over my bed and asking me to quantify my pain on a scale of one to ten. Not knowing what was good or bad I guessed my answers while trying to make clear that any pain in my back was quite liveable, but I did have a raging pain in my right should that totally occupied my mind. Nobody appeared to listen; they seemed concerned with my back and nothing else.

‘I was given a button and told that if my pain was bad I should press it and this would give me pain relief. So I pressed the button, but, apparently I did this too often and after a while I started to hallucinate.

‘Eventually, I found another button that I couldn’t remember being mentioned to me. When I pressed it this brought a nurse who explained that there is a limit to how much pain relief I could seek!

‘However, I still seemed to be struggling to get across where my pain was seated. Whether on a score of one to ten, or ten to a thousand, it was my shoulder that hurt. Excuse me! Nobody had operated on my shoulder and would somebody please listen!

‘Even now, I am not sure if anyone took any notice at all of what I was saying. Certainly nobody seemed to take any action on the subject.

‘The following day the physiotherapist explained some simply exercises and promised that tomorrow I would be helped out of bed. As it happens I had worked out that some form of exercise was a good idea and had been practicing wriggling my toes and moving my legs and arms.

‘Tomorrow came and went without my being helped out of bed, so the morning after I resolved to help myself. In a nick of time along came the physiotherapists who parked me in an armchair and said: “Tomorrow we’ll help you walk”.

‘I quickly became bored with sitting like a lemon in my chair. One of my fellow patients, who was more mobile than me, found a walking frame onto which I could hook my catheter bag and I started shuffling round the ward. It wasn’t long before my mobility was noticed, the catheter was removed and I was “fitted” with crutches.

‘These days, if you wish to watch television, or make or receive a telephone call, you are expected to subscribe to an expensive private service. Since I rather object to the idea of private business making a profit at the expense of hospital patients, I kept my mobile phone with me (well hidden!) and did not watch television during my stay.

‘It strikes me as odd that the hospital has a restaurant that serves excellent value-for-money meals to staff and visitors, and yet food for the patients is transported half way across the country. No doubt leaving a monster carbon footprint in its wake!

‘So, we had sandwiches with the bread so dry in crunched; mashed potato that spread itself across the plate in a grey, tasteless, soggy mess; peas that the Royal Navy of yore could have used to supplement grape shot and a lasagne that looked and felt more like peanut brittle!

‘We were lucky if we were offered three hot drinks in a day, although we were reminded to drink lots of water!

‘Needless to say I lost weight in hospital!

‘As my time in hospital progressed, it quickly became obvious that there were members of the staff who had a sense of vocation and worked their socks off, while some of their colleagues were happy to drift along doing as little as possible.

‘One young male staff nurse had time for everybody, tending to our needs, answering our questions and happily “walking the extra mile” for us.

‘Another, equally dedicated female staff nurse, to whom we complained about the terrible state of the toilet, cleaned it herself when she found that nothing had been done to improve its condition 24 hours later.

‘Realising that lavatory cleaning did not appear to be a major priority at the hospital, as soon as I was physically able I got into the habit of cleaning the more obvious stains in this particular facility before I felt I could use it.

‘Never the deepest of sleepers, I frequently awoke shivering because the hopelessly inadequate double glazing allowed as much draught into the ward as if the windows were open. One night I took my crutches for a walk in an effort to warm myself up, only to find that all the night staff were wearing outdoor coats because of the cold!

‘One day a staff nurse came to everyone with injections to the stomach. He said we would have to d thus ourselves for a number of weeks after our release from hospital and that the injected drug was to thin our blood. When I was eventually released nothing was said about these injections and no drug or equipment was provided. From my subsequent research I believe the drug to be heparin and its purpose is to avoid thrombosis!

‘One of my fellow patients, known to be somewhat volatile, exploded one day because he asked the same question several time and was given an equal number of different, evasive answers! There was an awful fuss and he was labelled “difficult”.

‘On Thursday I was told to be ready because I was about to be taken for an X-ray. That eventually happened on Saturday. I was then told that the only reason I couldn’t go home was because I had to be fitted with a special corset and the relevant department that handled such equipment didn’t work at weekends.

‘So, on Monday one of the nursing staff put a tape measure round my middle at which time I found out that these specially fitted corsets actually only came in standard small, medium, large or extra large sizes. Wow!

‘Anyway, once I was wearing the extremely uncomfortable undergarment I was told I could telephone my wife to come and collect me. The first person to actually explain to me why I had to wear the corset was the physiotherapist who I saw some two weeks after being released from Medway Hospital.

‘Having phoned home I was told my bed was needed and I was immediately moved to a room which I think was called the “discharge suite”. There I sat in an extremely uncomfortable chair whilst my wife drove to Gillingham and queued for one of the extremely limited parking spaces.

‘I freely admit that I wept with relied most of the way home. Once there I removed my “fitted” corset because it was so uncomfortable and found a series of bruises where it had chafed and squeezed my flesh.

‘I am sorry to say that I would have to be very, very ill and in incredible pain, before anyone could persuade me to go back to Medway Hospital for more treatment.

‘By the way, my shoulder still hurts and is the major source of pain!’


I don’t know about you, but some parts of the letter reminded me of scenes from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Of course that film was set in an American lunatic asylum, whereas what happened to my correspondent took place in a British NHS hospital here in the 21st Century. It is both depressing and worrying that this is not a rare complaint, but is one that can be replicated in many hospitals up and down the country.

But the most shocking thing about this story is that I am not shocked. Such tales of indifferent treatment, poor food, dirty toilets, off-hand staff, inadequate information and a “conveyor belt” mentality towards patients are legion.

I am a supporter of the NHS. I was born in 1948, the same year the NHS was founded, and I have used it ever since. My two sisters and brother-in-law work in the NHS. I know that most of the staff working in the NHS are dedicated, caring people, however, I am sure that they would agree there is something dreadfully wrong with a system that lets a patient leave its care with such a negative perception.

Read his words again: “I am sorry to say that I would have to be very, very ill and in incredible pain, before anyone could persuade me to go back to Medway Hospital for more treatment.”

For a patient to be left feeling that way is scandalous, but what is worse is that this particular complainant has asked to remain anonymous because he is frightened that because of his condition he will be obliged to use Medway Hospital again and is fearful that he will be discriminated against because if his complaint.

However, he does want his case highlighted because, as he says: “I would at least have the comfort of knowing that maybe something could be done to make other peoples’ hospital experience more tolerable”.

Gordon Henderson

May 4th 2008

Gordon Henderson is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Sittingbourne & Sheppey.

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