Has Our NHS Really Come To This?
For the last five hours we have been waiting in the emergency department of a general hospital in rural Yorkshire for a doctor to put my son’s dislocated shoulder back into position. Triage have assigned him to the ‘non life threatening’ category along with virtually everyone else sitting here - unless you have been brought in by ambulance. He is learning disabled, but that doesn’t get you priority treatment. The place is absolutely heaving and we are sitting disturbingly close to the ‘offensive waste only’ bin.
A stressed-looking nurse comes into the crowded waiting room and stridently announces to everyone that there is currently a six hour wait to see a doctor (a thinly veiled ‘go away all you non-urgent, non-life-threatening time wasters, we are too busy’). Yet no one moves or shows any surprise. After all, this is the norm and what we have come to expect from our NHS.
In the last five hours my son has interrogated almost everyone around him asking their names and if they tuck their duvet in. He has repeatedly bashed and squeezed me, put things into my face and has for the last hour been bashing a soft toy against his nose whilst endlessly repeating ‘I want to go home’ in a whiny voice. But, with a dislocated shoulder caused by a tonic clonic seizure, we don’t have the luxury of being able to go home.
When you ask the receptionist how much longer it will take, or where you are on the list they will merely state the standard answer which involves a mixture of empathy, hope and reassurance in equal measure: “Oh, five hours? I am sure it won’t be much longer.” And so we wait..and wait…and……
You might think this is going to be a piece about how carers and the learning disabled are treated in the NHS (but I will leave that for another day). Instead it is about every one of us. Every one of us who, unfortunately, will need emergency medical assistance at some time in our lives, All of us patiently waiting, worried, exhausted and certain that our condition merits more attention than a five to six hour wait.
In a corner are a couple who have paced up and down with their infant in arms, rocking and nursing her for over five hours. They look worried, exhausted and sound Ukrainian - and are probably thinking ‘so this is the much vaunted NHS system? Perhaps we should have relocated to Denmark’.
There are another three families with young infants that clearly have some sort of viral infection whose parents are circumnavigating the emergency waiting room, ceaselessly but vainly trying to stop their offspring from crying and howling. Others are allowing their toddlers to run wild amongst us, ensuring we all get a good dose of whatever their child has got.
A man whose son needs stitches in his leg has waited over two hours for triage and still hasn’t been seen. Having discovered there is now a six hour wait to see a doctor for treatment he has decided to travel over 30 miles to brave an emergency department across ‘the border’ instead.
To the right of us is a father and daughter who rang his local medical practice this morning for a call back about his daughter’s ill health and headaches. The GP eventually called him back at 5.30pm after the medical practice had closed and advised she should attend the Emergency Department at his local hospital instead. From the Emergency Department’s perspective that’s certainly a six hour non-urgent wait! Shame on the medical practice for shifting responsibility.
Only ten percent of people in the waiting room are wearing face masks, the majority of patients presumably having no comprehension that they are in one of the top workplaces for covid contagion and that national infection rates are rising again. The fact that all the medical professionals are wearing masks might have tipped them off. Having spent six hours in a packed, hot and humid A & E waiting room, I anticipate many of the unmasked may well be back here next week with Covid symptoms. On the bright side, at least they will get instant access into the AAU (Acute Assessment Unit).
At just over five hours, our son decided he needed to use the toilet and whilst getting out of his wheelchair his shoulder popped back into place. A miracle! More of a divine intervention than a medical one. In fact, this was extremely fortuitous as we were at the limit of our endurance and couldn’t have continued to placate our severely learning disabled son much longer. We promptly informed the receptionist we were leaving and to the envious eyes of our former inmates we exited into the cool night air.
On the way home, two ambulances streak by us in the darkness with blue lights flashing and fade into the distance. We look at one another without speaking, emotionless but registering the same thought - those poor souls waiting over in A & E are likely to have an even longer wait on their hands overnight.
Back at home, an hour later (six hours after we originally signed in) we unexpectedly receive a phone call from a very concerned emergency doctor: “Where are you? We have been searching for you in the Emergency Department!”
…So they do care…but the NHS is crumbling in front of our eyes - do we care enough to save it?