From Brenda in Hove: Grit your Teeth and Carry On!

The Challenge for the NHS

26 June

Spare a thought for the millions of people who have had various treatments and operations suspended or postponed for as long as it takes to bring this Covid virus under some sort of control. And another thought for all those people with symptoms who are not getting tested.  I had a taste this week of what it is like to not be able to see a doctor about a health issue I was struggling with.  

Unlike pre-Covid days, I simply could not get through to anybody – except Emergency Services and I couldn’t in all conscience bring myself to phone them. On our practice website the first telephone-only appointment you could book was a couple of days ahead with a doctor you had never heard of . Waiting for even a couple of days was unthinkable. Lucky for me I have a daughter-in-law who is an Accident and Emergency consultant and she prescribed the antibiotic. Enormous relief – and then the antibiotic didn’t work. That meant I would need further tests before the right antibiotic could be found. After trying (many times, over two days, and increasingly desperate) each of the phone numbers listed for the practice, including the ones that were described for other purposes, I finally got through to somebody and managed to get a nurse to agree to do the test. It came back negative and the secretary told me to go away and finish the course I was on. I refused to budge until I saw the nurse. I had to wait, of course, but when I finally saw her she was terrific – and phoned a doctor herself and described my problem and she prescribed another antibiotic. All this took four days and lots and lots of paracetamol.

Several things were noticeable. You are not allowed into the medical practice building without an appointment (good luck to you). Even if you had an appointment you were required to wait in the carpark if the doctor or nurse was not yet ready for you (not great for elderly or frail people). You were definitely on no account to even think about going inside if you had any covid symptoms (fair enough). I was asked on the phone, on the intercom and by the receptionist, if I had symptoms. I hope everyone knows what all the symptoms are because the list gets longer every day. You are required to wear a mask (fair enough). With a mask on my face and a Perspex screen between the receptionist and myself, I had to repeat myself several times (too bad). The building seems deserted but there are obviously people lurking somewhere – although the voicemail had informed me most people were working from home (fine for some). The waiting room had all of the chairs bar three stacked up and facing the wall and no magazines (I was tired of reading about the Titanic anyway). The whole experience was very alienating and uncomfortable. Eerie. But credit where credit is due: there was a good outcome.

The list of doctors with whom one could make an appointment (they were not the practice doctors) seemed to have surnames from everywhere in the world. Somebody needs to tell all these Brexiteers. Where would the health services be without them? All appointments have to be made online and there are precious few fifteen minute slots for a medical practice that boasts 10,500 people. This cannot be much fun for the doctors and it certainly is difficult for the patients. Physical examinations are clearly out of the question. Where do we begin? Temperatures? Even the nurse who saw me couldn’t stick to the 2 metre rule and take my temperature. Blood pressure? No chance.

There have been several articles in the papers about the fact that doctors are worried about the backlog of cases building up and the many people whose health is almost certainly being compromised. It is all very well saying that most of the population must resume their normal activities (and I agree that this is necessary and reasonable) but for health workers it seems to me that nothing will return to normal for a very long time.

I found the past week and its relatively minor travails very chastening. I have been railing at the humdrum nature of my new life but just take away good health and the humdrum becomes something much to be coveted.

I am also conscious of the fact that my situation was relatively minor and my heart goes out to all those (some of whom I know personally) who endure serious conditions and painful symptoms – while they wait for our heroic nurses and doctors to be able to attend to them. Nothing normal about that either.       

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