The UK NHS a creaking gate? Never!


By Roy Oswick ….

After 10 wonderful years of living in the sun on the Island of Cyprus ill health finally dictated that we could no longer afford to pay for any further health treatments and we were reluctantly forced to return to the United Kingdom.

I had again been very ill and the responsibility for packing up our home, seeking accommodation in the UK and arranging for the transportation of our two rescue dogs fell entirely to my wife Gloria and she dealt with the situation brilliantly, allowing us to return to the UK and move into a rented cottage in the County of Lincolnshire, perfect for our needs, and ideally situated near to friends and family.

We had heard all of the horror stories about the NHS and the problems it had during our absence overseas and unbeknown to us at first was the fact that we would shortly see for ourselves just how difficult life had become.

Having registered with a local surgery we were at first impressed with the services provided and were beginning to believe that the horror stories we had heard were just that, Stories. However we were destined soon to face reality.

On father’s day I became very ill and was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. It is only a couple of miles from our village and we were swiftly and efficiently transported by a very professional team.

On arrival at the A & E department we were gradually introduced to the real world. There were at least 5 other ambulances trying to hand over patients to the A & E staff, who could not accept patients as there were simply no beds available and incoming patients were required to lie in corridors on trolley’s until a bed became available, and the one and only doctor on duty could find time to examine the patient and make some kind of diagnosis.

In my case this took about 2 and a half hours and I was informed that my condition was such that I needed to be admitted and about an hour later a bed was available and I was allocated to an observation ward.

I remained in hospital for 6 days during which I was subjected to every test possible to do with Heart, Lungs, Kidney Liver and every other vital organ as well as having 400ml of liquid drained from my lung cavity. The treatment could not be faulted and the efforts of the staff can only be admired. They were, all of them, magnificent.

Now that I am back home I have been reflecting on some of the incidents that at the time meant little, but on reflection highlight situations that were very funny. For instance.

  1. The sleeping tablet

For the first 2 nights I found it impossible to sleep. Not surprising when you appreciate that the Nurses take Blood pressure, oxygen saturation levels and body temperature every 4 hours, through the day and the night, so rest is impossible.

However after 2 nights of no sleep I was exhausted and asked the Nurse for a tablet to help me sleep that night.

The answer was yes, but she had to wait for a doctor to prescribe it, and there was only one doctor on duty so I may have to wait. Given the pressure that the staff were under I accepted the decision, however the tablet never did arrive and I spent a very restless and sleepless night. I raised this with the ward doctor during his rounds the next morning and he assured me that he would make a note for the duty doctor to prescribe something for that night.

By 10 0’clock that evening nothing had been given to me and I eventually fell asleep. Through sheer tiredness I fell asleep only to be woken up by a very determined and loud voiced nurse. My first thoughts were that the hospital must be in the throes of some kind of security crisis as lights were on and the noise was considerable. I recall mumbling something like what is going on and seeing a smile of relief spread across the face of the night duty nurse who was responsible for my rude awakening.

“Ah at last you have woken up. Good, now take this”

At this point she gave me a small tablet and a sip of water. “What is this?” I asked.

“The sleeping tablet that you asked for” she said. I glanced at my watch 02.35 hrs. Now of course I am wide awake and I said:.

“Just a minute are you telling me that you have woken me up at 2.30am in the morning to give me a sleeping tablet?” I asked

“Yes, because now that it has been prescribed I have to make sure that you take it, relax it will kick in after about an hour or so” Needless to say i was awake for the remainder of the night.

  1. The ‘You should not be here’ incident

As I have said the nursing staff, in fact all staff, were magnificent during my stay, but given the pressure that they are under it is inevitable that at some time mistakes will happen.

Every time a nurse or doctor saw a patient I noticed that they were always required to confirm their name and date of birth before any treatment or medication was given. Having been in North Cyprus for so long it came as quite a shock to find that I was located in a ward with 5 other men.

Nurses are required to carry out various tasks during the night and this includes treatments, medications blood tests etc. so life is very hectic for them on the hospital wing that I was in, there were only 6 nurses to look after 8 wards of 6 patients. At night this level of staff was reduced to 4 nurses.

Patients come and go of course and the population of the wards changes frequently with some patients being discharged and others moved to other areas. This was very much the case on my ward which appeared to be for short term or in transit patients.

It so happened that on one day a space and bed became available and a new patient arrived. Later that day as the night shift of staff took over the usual round of treatments and medications began.

The nurse approached our new arrival and asked the usual name and date of birth question “Williams” said the patient

“We have to wait for the doctor to administer your treatment” said the nurse and moved on to the next bed.

Once again the name and DOB question “Williams” said the patient there was then a pregnant pause as the nurse realised that she had two patients with the same name on the ward and in adjacent beds. She quickly confirmed dates of birth and Forenames, “Peter” said the first Williams, “Robert” said the second.”

Robert” said the nurse, “You should not be here, you were moved to Lincoln hospital this afternoon”.  “Well” said Robert, “You can clearly see that I am very much here” with that the nurse fled with the treatment trolley and almost in tears. After a few minutes during which we could clearly hear the senior nurse relaying the problem to whoever it was that needed to know.

She then came into the ward, sat down and explained that the hospital had three male patients named Williams, two of whom were named Robert. An ambulance had been arranged to take one of the Robert Williams to Lincoln General Hospital, but somehow a mistake had occurred and the wrong person had been sent. Staff at Lincoln had identified the mistake and the ambulance was now on the way back to take the correct Robert Williams to Lincoln Hospital. Our Robert was to get ready to move to Lincoln.

She apologised profusely but added that the transfer had to take place this evening as the proper Robert Williams was scheduled for an operation the following day. Clearly the confirmation of names and DOB had failed on this occasion.

The incident served only to emphasise the pressure that NHS Staff are under and is often referred to by staff as a creaking gate