Sunday, 29 November 2009
It's time for change
The news that Bolton, Greater Manchester and Basildon NHS trusts – the elite NHS Foundation Trusts – had death rates far higher than the national average is bound to start people asking questions about the management of our hospitals.
Finding out what hospitals are really like is pretty tricky. If you ask patients while they're in hospital, then most will feel so grateful, needy or intimidated they dare not speak out of turn in case they’re refused treatment or simply ignored when they ring for a bedpan. When you’re on the ward you simply don’t rock the boat because you’re so vulnerable. Once most people leave hospital, the nightmare of ward life, filthy toilets and facilities that make Kabul General Hospital look well appointed, begin to fade and complaining is no longer an urgent priority. And as for those who don’t make it through the NHS machine’s 'caring' hands… well, they’re hardly in a position to comment, are they?
So what’s going to happen next? Will someone actually have the nerve to stand up and say parts of the NHS are simply not ‘fit for purpose’? The NHS is like an over-loved teddy. It needs a lot of repair work rather than simply being sprayed with perfume and given a new suit of clothes. It has to take on board patients’ criticisms rather than the pathetic reams of toilet paper produced by overpaid management consultants. The windows need to be opened and the stale air replaced by the invigorating breeze of an open mind that can look at fixing the NHS rather than hosing it down with money that just drains away and empties into the nearest trough for managers and bureaucrats to soak up.
I remember feeling so afraid when I started my blog that criticised the food that was actually hindering my recovery and in danger of making me really ill after ten weeks of nothing else. I was so worried people might spit in my food (or worse) that I knew I had to be anonymous. For all I know, someone may have spat and urinated in my food, but as I hardly ate any of it I’m not all that bothered.
The day after my blog was splashed all over the UK and global media, I felt physically sick for a day or two. I turned down interviews with GMTV, BBC and just about every other media outlet except a couple of radio stations in Perth and Darwin. I was so afraid of being bundled out of my bed for stepping out of line. Actually, I couldn’t step anywhere but you get my drift.
A day or two later the head of finance at the trust where I was being treated visited me because she’d apparently never seen anyone in traction before and was interested. Really? It was so surreal as I lay there explaining how my traction worked as she simply stared at me trying to figure out if I was a lunatic, security risk or just plain trouble. I’d clearly been rumbled at that point.
Perhaps it’s time more patients were given the confidence and encouragement to 'step out of line' and criticise some of the unacceptable practices that are causing people to die needlessly. The NHS can be great but it can also be very bad. It’s time the NHS was stripped of its ‘sacred cow’ status and was forced to face reality and put the patient first. If that happens, then the needless deaths that occur every year in our hospitals won’t have been in vain.