A less cosy view of the NHS at work

Other people’s medical problems are intrinsically tedious and only of interest to those immediately affected, so you may well wonder why I am revisiting my recent sojourn in hospital (blog 8 April, A Personal View of the Beleaguered NHS). This is because my experiences after progressing from A&E to Short Stay Ward were distressing and potentially life-threatening, and entirely contrary to the principles behind the founding the NHS.

For the second time in less than a month, I arrived in A&E in the middle of the night with congestive heart failure. Not surprisingly, doctors decided further investigations were needed and I was transferred to a ward.

“A cardiac consultant will see you, and will probably want you to have an echocardiogram and angiogram,” I was told. “You will stay here until that is done.”

Thereafter, as my recalcitrant heart continued to give me pain and breathlessness, I was told on a regular, certainly daily basis, “A cardiologist will come and see you today.”

No cardiologist ever came to see me. Not once in the five days I was on the ward.

I was regularly seen by student doctors, visited on a couple of occasions by the Registrar, and by the excellent Head of Clinical Medicine in charge of that area of the hospital. All appeared to believe that “a cardiac consultant” was due to see me almost immediately. I heard telephone calls made, and urgent appeals, but that elusive “cardiologist” never appeared.

At lunch time on the fifth day, I was told I could go home. The young doctor who came to “explain” told me that I should consult my GP. “He’ll probably be able to get you to see a cardiologist more easily than we can.” “But – I’m here, actually in the hospital…” “Yes. Sorry, nothing more we can do.”

My GP was appalled. He knew it would take 8 months at least to get a clinic appointment.

I suggested we go private – what am I hanging on to my savings for if my heart is liable to give up any time? The heart consultant saw me promptly, gave me that elusive echocardiogram immediately, and booked me in for an urgent angiogram the following day. (It’s a day procedure, where a wire is inserted into an artery and directed into the heart itself.) The result: a view of clear coronary arteries and a very damaged heart muscle due to a clot in the lower left ventricle dating from many years ago. Nothing to be done except change of medication and de-stressed life style.

How did the cardiologist know what these results would be? No one else did. Nor was I given further medication, simply was told to double the dose of everything I am on.

And how can it be that while I am actually in a ward in the hospital no specialist was willing to come up in a lift from one floor to another, just to speak to me?  Instead I am told to go through the tedious process of referral via GP and waiting list, which everyone knows will take months. And yet, a heart specialist who works at the same hospital was able to see me privately less than a week after referral, and immediately conducted the investigative procedures so that at last it is clear what can and cannot be done.

I wish it to be clear I have no criticism of the excellent heart specialist I was able to consult. He too appeared shocked to learn of my experience, and went out of his way to make things easier for me. I am grateful to him personally. And to my GP, who has been consistently supportive.

But the behaviour of those cardiologists responsible for my neglect is surely not what we expect of those at the top in the NHS. Specialists have always demanded – and received – special treatment, right from the inception of the NHS. We know that without special treatment, certain specialists would simply have refused to cooperate in a new-fangled  service designed to be for everyone regardless of means. Perhaps without our realizing it, some of these specialists are withdrawing their cooperation now. I hope this is not yet one more way in which private medicine is encroaching on our beleaguered NHS.


About Elizabeth Mapstone

Author of novels, short stories, a self-help book that really works and a serious work on the psychology of argument. Former psychotherapist, now retired and writing fiction.
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