If you live in the UK, you can’t help but be aware of the current problems faced by the NHS. The continuing debate over contracts for junior doctors has led to 4 strikes in the last 4 months, though the discussion has been raging for much longer, and there are more strikes on the cards if the issues can’t be resolved. Theses issues have been well-documented in the national press and I’ve no doubt that those of us who depend on a very regular basis on the healthcare provided by the NHS have our own opinions about these strikes, especially if we know, or indeed are, one of the 25,000 cancelled operations that have resulted from their action. Whatever your thoughts about these strikes – and believe me when I say that I’ve heard a huge cross-section of opinions from friends and acquaintances – it is impossible to ignore the underlying truth that the NHS is struggling and its future doesn’t necessarily look all that rosy.
Over the last 5 years, our experiences of the NHS have ranged from the outstandingly good to the outrageously awful. We continue to have a very reluctant relationship with our local hospital, who has unquestionably failed M at almost every step of the way and it is only our belief that local support and care is tantamount to his continued health and well-being as well as our peace of mind that has kept us in the battle for a shared care relationship between our local and GOSH. Likewise, whilst we are extremely grateful to M’s GOSH consultant and dietician, who not only gave us that elusive diagnosis 3 years ago, but who continue to advise, support and care for him with the honesty that we requested, the disastrous outcomes of our last admission have tested that “doctor – patient’s parent” relationship to its limits. We have accepted that they don’t have all the answers, nor access to that much longed-for magic wand, but we will keep going back because we have absolute confidence that M’s medical team, at least, will carry on striving to do their best for our medically complex challenge of a child.
Yet, despite all the lows, the high points mean that I can see there is something truly wonderful to be valued about our NHS. I see it in the regular phone-conversations that happen between M’s dietician and me, so that she can keep an eye on what’s going on from a food point of view and monitor how well he’s managing with drinking his E028 now that the NG-tube is gone. I see it when she takes her concerns to M’s consultant and talks them through and agrees a way forward, so that we don’t have to wait months for our next trek to London for an appointment before we act on the problems we’re experiencing now. I saw it in the care given to both M and me during his admission, when the nurses made sure that his best interests were met as far as possible and offered cups of tea when they were otherwise powerless to help. I saw it in the frankness awarded to Mike and I during the December debacle, when we asked for an honest opinion about his future health and what we could expect; and it was given.
And I see it at the local level that for most of us is our main contact with the NHS. Not the senior consultants, junior doctors and hospital staff dealing with the chronically ill, but through the GPs surgeries and the doctors, nurses and other staff that work there. I know that we are incredibly lucky with the local medical centre that’s found in our small village and for as long as we have been a part of it, they have gone above and beyond so many times to make things easier and get answers and help whenever we’ve needed it. Recently, I hit an unexpected stumbling block in ordering the E028 formula needed to keep M going, one that had been caused by a lack of communication between the feeding team at our local hospital and just about everyone else. A feeding team nurse had contacted GOSH to confirm whether M still needed regular tube changes and, on being told that he no longer had his tube, she cancelled the monthly orders with the feeding company. Nothing wrong there you may think and I’d agree, except she didn’t advise us that she’d cancelled it, nor did she tell our GP that it was now their responsibility to sort out his monthly prescriptions.
Thanks to past experience and my somewhat controlling approach to always having a supply of E028 in the house, I started chasing about when we could expect our next delivery whilst there was still a good amount of stock in my dining room and spent the next 40 minutes being pushed from pillar to post as I tried to track down who I needed to speak to and unpick exactly what had happened. When I finally established what I had to do, it was my wonderful GP’s surgery that I turned to and their fantastically competent staff. With the help of 1 receptionist, 1 member of office staff and the invaluable pharmacist, we eventually got M’s prescription sorted and marked as an ongoing monthly medication. They phoned, researched, ploughed through reams of medical notes and faxed until it was all sorted – and all with the attitude that they wanted to help, were willing to help and were happy to help, and a ready smile that reassured me I wasn’t being too much of a problem in their already busy day.
That is caring for the patient at its absolute best and that’s why we should value our NHS; for all those staff who get little thanks but make a big difference – or certainly did for this harassed Mum!