An Open Letter to the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley.

21 August 2012

 Dear Mr Lansley

I would like to relate to you my recent experiences of our National Health Service during your term as Secretary of State for Health, under the current government. Although I am aware that the shortcomings of the NHS go back further than the coalition government’s tenure in power; I believe a large portion of liability still rests with you vis-à-vis my wholly unsatisfactory care in our NHS hospitals, given that you have not done the duty you were charged with: failing to rectify the problems of underfunding and understaffing of our hospitals. Now, before I delineate these recent experiences to you, I would like to clarify that I am not venting my spleen on the hard-working doctors and staff who tend the needs of patients in your hospitals, but on your department, and the UK government as a whole, which are responsible for assisting medical and care staff in performing their duties efficiently and satisfactorily, as well as for making sure hospitals have the requisite numbers of trained staff to meet the needs of tax-paying public. In these fundamental duties of your office, you have failed miserably, and here is an example of the consequences of your failure.

On July 24 2012 I was involved in an RTA, the injuries I sustained required treatment at hospital – in this instance it was Bath Royal United Hospital – as I had a badly injured hand and forearm, and tissue loss from my elbow after my car had rolled over onto my right arm. The response time of the ambulance was, generally speaking, quite quick, although I did not arrive at the hospital until an hour and a half after the RTA; luckily my injuries were relatively minor, or else this letter may not have ever reached you. Upon arriving at the hospital, the paramedic briefed the ward sister on my injuries – possibly broken wrist and elbow, and tissue loss from my elbow that required cleaning to remove road debris – and I was told to wait in one of the cubicles. I was seen by a nurse within twenty minutes who examined my wrist and arranged an x-ray, but was remiss in cleaning the wound on my elbow, due to the fact the hospital was clearly understaffed and she could not spend too much time with one single patient. After another thirty minute or so period of waiting I had x-rays taken of my wrist; then it was a further two and a half hours of waiting, without any contact or communication with any medical staff, until a doctor came to give me the verdict on the x-rays and examine my injuries. It was only then that the dressing that the paramedic had applied to my elbow at the scene of the accident was removed to reveal, now, dried in blood and road debris. The doctor, finally seeing the injury after three and a half hours of my being at the hospital, related how difficult the injury would be to clean and treat, especially given how, after previously being told by the nurse that I did not need an x-ray on my elbow, he requested an x-ray be taken of my elbow, as the doctor feared it may be broken.

Before the x-ray, a nurse was charged with the task of cleaning the open wound, which would have been a simple, near pain-free action had this occurred upon my arrival as the paramedic suggested, but now it was caked with dry blood debris that had now stuck into the wound. I was urged to lie down, even though I said I was comfortable sitting, because the staff knew what I was in for; Nitrous Oxide was brought in for me to breathe in, as I underwent the cleaning of the wound, which required the use of a brush with stiff nylon bristles. Needless to say I was sucking everything out of that tank of gas. But this could all have been avoided had the few nurses on duty not been stretched so thinly. During my time at the hospital there was a steady influx of patients, as well as an emergency that caused the ward I was on to be empty of any medical personnel for a significant period of time – hence my long wait for a doctor. As I mentioned above I do not blame the staff for their inattentive care, I’m certain there were far more worse off patients who needed treatment, and I’m confident the staff tried their hardest to take care of the needs of everyone in turn, wherever possible. The problem was the understaffing. For example I only saw three different nurses and two doctors walking around the vicinity, during my five hours there. At one point an elderly and feeble man wandered out of his cubicle, far enough to approach me while I was pacing up and down during my long wait, he was searching for his cane and as his legs were trembling I asked him to take hold of my arm, and another patient to bring over a chair, lest the old man fall. It was only when the man had sat down that a nurse appeared, and took over. Following the excruciatingly painful, and avoidable, cleanup of my wound, x-rays were taken of my elbow and not long after, at 3am, I was released (I had arrived at 10:15pm.)

My second experience involves the Minor Injury Unit of Trowbridge Hospital. I was required to go to my local surgery to have my dressings changed every two days. Following a visit and a brief examination of my hand to see how it was doing, the nurse rang me with concerns over the continuing poor state of my hand, and strongly suggested I go to Trowbridge hospital’s Minor Injury Unit where I could get another x-ray. Upon arriving, and informing the receptionist of the situation, I was asked to sit in the waiting room where I waited for over half an hour. When I was finally taken to a cubicle a nurse examined my hand, and then disappeared to consult with another. After a long wait, the nurse came back asking me details of when my accident occurred so that they could look at the initial x-ray. The nurses looked at this x-ray and came to the same conclusions, as the staff at Bath Royal United Hospital, that it wasn’t broken. So after an hour and a half of waiting I did not receive the second x-ray I had come for.

A week later I visited my GP regarding continuing problems with my hand and wrist, she shared my concerns and gave me a radiology referral – a situation that would have been precluded had i received the x-ray at Trowbridge – and booked an appointment for ten days time at Salisbury Hospital. Another grievance of mine, given that my wrist or hand could be broken and therefore, either healing incorrectly while I wait, or may be suffering more damage without the required support and treatment. Well, anyway, I had the x-rays done finally. However I was shocked to be told that the radiologist would not have the results for my GP for another 7-10 days, another period of time in which my hand may not be healing properly, or be suffering continued damage. And what was worse was that I was told I would likely have to call in myself for my results, since, according to the radiographer, surgeries rarely contact the patients themselves to discuss the results of x-rays. Needless to say that is hardly what I expect from a health care provider.

And so, Mr Lansley, here I am typing a letter to you – because I am unable to write to you in my own hand – to convey my embarrassment and anger at what our Nation Health Service has become, while I wait for the verdict on an injury I sustained a month ago, that may impact my University studies as well as my future life. If I had received the health care that one should expect in a developed country, maybe I would be writing to you in congratulations of your good work, and competent maintenance of the NHS, but alas your health service remains understaffed, inefficient, underfunded, and unsatisfactory with no resolution to these deficiencies in sight. It is a sad state of affairs and a damning testament to a government, when one cannot even trust in it to provide quality healthcare for its population.

Yours Faithfully

Daniel Adshead

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About johnny3wishbone

University of Bristol alum Follow me on Twitter @DanielAdshead25 A few of my favourite things: International development, human rights, justice, wildlife conservation, primates, politics, literature, music, catharsis, theatre, my fiance, history, environment, current events, writing, reading, running, fundraising, campaigning, activism, travel, Prague, Bristol, Mexican food
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