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There is no excuse for being amateur when people’s lives and health are at risk

Independent contractor Sid Dajani struggled to retain his empathy for the NHS during a difficult first-hand experience

Never a week goes by these days when the NHS isn’t an entire news story. Normally we would admire, empathise and support the stresses and pressures, but until you become a patient you can’t really write a meaningful sentence about it.

Since January I’ve had a bad upper respiratory tract infection. What started as a few days of non-stop coughing gave way to conking out mid-cough. It happened anytime, anywhere and after the frequency of attacks increased from once daily up to 10 or more times daily, I called 111. They sent me an ambulance and, after a nebuliser treatment, a GP appointment was arranged for the same afternoon.

The GP gave me a course of steroids but I still kept conking out, and once when it happened in company an ambulance was called out. Over the past eight weeks I have pulled various muscles from coughing too hard, have had no more than two hours sleep at a stretch between coughing fits, been in and out of hospital three times and had various blood tests.

Although I still have no sense of smell or taste (fashion or otherwise!) my violent coughing no longer results in fainting but vomiting, and I never know when it will hit.
I have lost a stone and half from living on a fruit and water diet. While I thought I had cough syncope, the experts now believe it may have been whooping cough.

Armchair viewing

On my third visit to the hospital, I waited for eight hours for an ECG, chest x-ray and blood tests. After I had seen the triage nurse, the wait was an excuse to rest and, besides, I was sitting in a much nicer armchair than all the other uncomfortable prison-issue models around. After a few hours, I enquired whether I’d be seen before the wheels of the wheelchair needed greasing.

Guess what, they’d forgotten about me! That’s fine: the NHS is understaffed, under-resourced, and staff at all levels are over-worked, under-paid and unappreciated.
Truth to tell, I’m a big fan of the NHS. So, out of respect and accepting that it might be poor form to complain during tough times, compounded by the catch-up after thousands of cancelled operations since the junior doctors’ strike, I didn’t.

When I had a blood test, I had a junior nurse turn my arm into a pin cushion. Despite too much blood ending up on the trolley and the floor, it was all OK and understandable as we all have to learn on the job, and let’s not forget that the NHS is creaking like a pantomime dame’s corset from all the pressure.

The hospital said the results for the Bordetella pertussis bacterium for whooping cough would be sent to my GP in a few weeks’ time, as they needed to see if the culture would grow. I gave them an extra week out of empathy and, four weeks after my bloods were taken, I called my GP sounding and coughing worse than an 80-a-day smoker with COPD and one lung in the middle of a running a marathon. I was told that my results weren’t in yet.

Almost a tragedy of errors

I called Winchester Hospital, where they apologised for forgetting to forward my results on, and said they’d be with my GP that afternoon. I called my GP as agreed and was told that my results had been lost! They could refer me back, which would take another three to four weeks, but instead decided to treat me with antibiotics just in case.

Explanations for my situation had now progressed from under-pressure staff to a poor and inefficient service. But no matter what, there is no excuse for being amateur when people’s lives and health are at risk. How many others have experienced such miserable standards, resulting in misdiagnosis, unnecessary errors, hospitalisation, or even avoidable death?

If the NHS can get away with such poor service, could community pharmacists use workload pressures (particularly in light of the pending 6 per cent funding cuts) as a reasonable excuse to deliver a bad job, and make people suffer? I doubt it, because there is no excuse. Things will simply have to take longer, and we will have more explaining to do.

Ethical, or blackmail?

So, in the face of unprecedented pressures is it right for junior doctors to go on strike? At whichever school of management you might have studied, anyone with ethics, a calculator and an ounce of common sense can see what a totally and utterly stupid idea it is to go on strike when people’s lives are at stake.

If some services go on strike, others can partially fill that role, but junior doctors know that nobody can take over from them and that’s almost blackmail. If the army went on strike, would junior doctors even care?

If they have been dealt a bad hand, I think their representatives have played it badly. Watching the strikers defend themselves in good cheer, something else apart from context is missing – simple, mature, grown-up judgement, and there’s not a lot of it about. In the meantime we have the threats of more strikes and never-ending pure dramatic cardboard.

Patients lose out

When an agreement is finally reached, the doctors may be paid double for the overtime catch-up – genius business people! And even if they depose the MPs responsible, there will be other wannabee portfolio MPs ready to fight on while the untouchable civil servants will still be there ready to advise them. Only the patients they claim to be supporting will lose out.

It’s a jaw-dropping exercise in incompetence and reminds me of when I called a locum nurse to ask for a size for the catheter she had just prescribed.

She told me to measure the patient in my pharmacy!

I need to get better. I can’t survive yet another NHS episode.

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