I eulogised recently about the almost impossibly good treatment of my Dad at the Royal Surrey hospital in Guildford.
Over 10 days – initially in A&E and then in a surgical ward – the care and attention lavished on his ailing 87 year old body was remarkable.
But, in view of the explosive population growth – through a combination of increased longevity and net migration – is the NHS sustainable in its current form?
I experienced A&E myself yesterday, at first hand. Well, middle finger.
I managed to slice open a large flap of skin over the knuckle of the third finger on my right hand, courtesy of a shattering cafetiere resisting being wiped up. Feisty things, these coffee making gizmos.
My first instinct was to avoid going to A&E if at all possible, not wanting to waste their valuable resources on a minor domestic injury.
Actually, that’s not true. Before doing anything else I had to enjoy my freshly baked bread, the crust of which was still warm and oozing with butter, and just crying out for its strong cheddar cheese partner.
A man’s stomach waits for no one. The blood gushing from my wound was temporarily addressed by a rustic dressing of a couple of absorbent sheets ripped from the kitchen roll dispenser.
At 1 pm, I called 111, the NHS non-emergency number, hoping I’d be sent to the GP’s surgery rather than A&E. 15 minutes later, after a thorough series of questions and assessment, I was sent to A&E.
It was 2:30 by the time I registered with the 3 A&E receptionists. I’d parked at the distant Tesco’s, as the usual Orwellian scenario was unfolding at the vast hospital car park. And I’d stocked up on coffee and a newspaper, in anticipation of the inevitably tortuous afternoon ahead.
“It’s a quiet day, you should only have to wait 30 minutes to be seen.”
“That’s just for the initial assessment.”
Sure enough, I was seeing the triage nurse not much after 3.
“Fingers crossed” – ho ho – “we can get away with sticking a steri-strip on this. Less restricting than stitches”.
All cleaned up and sent back to the A&E waiting room, always an interesting study of humanity.
It was close to 4 by the time I was called through to see a young A&E doctor.
I explained again what had happened.
“Has this been cleaned up?”.
“Yes. And the nurse thinks a steri-strip might be enough. And better than stitches?”
“Hold on. I need to speak with the Consultant.”
“I think I’ll glue it. But let’s have an X-Ray first, to make sure there’s no glass left in there.”
A 20 minute wait outside the X-Ray cubicles.
15 minutes inside the X-Ray theatre, taking a couple of artfully posed snaps of my offending digit.
Back to the always entertaining A&E waiting room, elevating my wounded finger like an assiduous schoolboy attracting teacher’s attention.
Finally called back to see the young doctor at what must by then have been after 5 pm.
“OK. Good news. No glass in the wound.”
“But let me check something with the Consultant.”
5 minutes listening to my case being discussed on the other side of the curtain.
The Consultant and the young medic return.
“I think that needs a couple of stitches, I’m afraid. Better than gluing.”
I got to know the lovely young doctor as she whacked some local anaesthetic – 4 separate, painful pricks – into the bony top of the finger. She’s hoping to do a year out, in an Australian hospital, before returning to focus on a surgical career back in the UK.
We talked books, as I’d asked the Consultant if it would be ok to have a pint at tonight’s book club meeting in the pub.
After 2 stitches – “I’m a perfectionist” – she called the Consultant back in. The wound was still bleeding – quite a lot – and she didn’t want to sew it up prematurely.
“Squeeze it out, and ask him to elevate the wound before closing up.”
1 final stitch. Bit more chat. Done.
Sent away with a pretty rustic dressing, and a couple of spares, told to keep it dry for 7 days and get the stitches taken out at the GP’s surgery.
Finally home at around 6:30, after a cheeky cappuccino at the hospital’s insanely busy Costa outlet, waiting for some feeling to return to my poor finger before driving home.
Again, what remarkable service. But does it really have to take all that time getting processed through A&E, with highly trained resources who somehow don’t communicate as efficiently as everybody would in any commercial organisation?
I’m incredibly grateful for the thoroughness and professionalism of all the staff, but I ask again….is the NHS sustainable in its current form, free at the point of entry?
I fear not.
By the way, I had a couple of pints at the Olde Ship Inn as we discussed the heart-rending novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. For medicinal purposes.