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HomeNewsWhat’s wrong with the NHS? The patients, that’s what

What’s wrong with the NHS? The patients, that’s what


Here, did you just ask how we could run the NHS more efficiently?

For goodness sake keep your voice down! We could be accused of heresy!

It takes a brave woman to confront that one and I’m no Kate Andrews. I have neither the stomach for that fight nor the intellectual capacity. Also, for reasons outlined below, I feel massively indebted to everyone who works in the NHS so I’m in no position to moan.

I can say this with confidence though: something needs to be done about patient expectations.

Last week I found myself recovering from a traumatic op in a six-bed ward. I was mid-ward in Bed Five, so every other bed was within eavesdropping distance.

The bloke in Bed One decided that his entire social circle were entitled to swarm around him as long as they liked. Whenever a nurse politely reminded them of the visiting hours, they rudely ignored them. As if flouting the rules was a bit laddish and a tremendous laugh.

I don’t think the NHS should necessarily be patient-centric. Not unless they are Politeness Centric.

My dad was a GP and my mum was a nurse and I tend to see everyone in scrubs as a reincarnation of one of them. Sort of like Doctor Who, but Doctor and Nurse Booth. See young Ajita over there with the stethoscope? She’s my dad! Adewele might look like a big Nigerian geezer to you, but I see him as my mum. So maybe I took this rudeness to the professionals too personally. It appals me that doctors and nurses who work so hard are patronised by people who can’t understand even the most basic social contract. Such as visiting hours. So this insulting behaviour to the nurses had me bursting my stitches. Which means one patient’s lofty expectations lowers five other patient outcomes.

It got worse. I heard one of these idiotic interlopers outlining his demands, to a senior doctor, for his mate’s medical care: ‘Oh and one last thing, my friend wants to smoke.’

Amazingly, the doctor treated this like a sensible request: ‘I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible.’ Good grief, he should have wiped the floor of this dreadful little colostomy drop. Instead, the doctor’s politeness only emboldened the ghastly grume. ‘OK,’ said the uppity embolism, ‘who do I need to speak to about this?’ He was demanding service like he was negotiating a service upgrade from Vodafone.

The nerve of these people! How dare they even think like this, let alone dare to say it out loud or, worse, disrupt the work of the medical professionals with their amateur interventions?

Just when I thought humanity could sink no lower, the patient’s employer turned up to have a go. As proprietor of one of Croydon’s premier kebab establishments, he spoke with the authority of a business leader who was bitterly disappointed with the performance of the public sector. He seemed to be implying that heads should roll. ‘You’ve had my employee in here for five days – when is he going to be back at work?’ he said.

Never mind the time and money wasting, how morale-sapping must it be for doctors to cater to these pumped-up expectation junkies?

Good grief, if we are going to ‘sweat’ our doctors and nurses like human assets, we really should at least give them some protection. Machines get more care lavished on them.

Still, wait till I tell you who turned up in Bed Six the next day.

Judging by his high-volume mobile phone conversations, he was out of prison after seven years of a ten-year sentence. Addicted to crack. He never steals, bless him. No hang on, he does steal but never to pay for his drugs. So that’s all right then. I can press that button that releases morphine into my system and sleep soundly. If my iPhone does go missing, he’s not doing it to pay for crack – just for ‘the craic’.

It wasn’t his drug addiction that surprised me, but his massive sense of entitlement. He expected his heroin substitute to be delivered at 8.30am prompt. (Never mind that nurses can’t prescribe it. And he was free to leave any time and go to his regular outlet.) He spent the entire 24 hours shouting at anyone in uniform, demanding to know when his order of Subutex was being delivered.

What led him to believe he could just pitch up and demand drugs like this? Boy, I wish Peter Hitchens had been there! This character seemed to have no physical impediment. All the other patients were bedbound, and we’d all arrived in the unit unconscious and on trolleys. Subutex man checked himself in and out at will, frequently dashing off outside to have a fag. When he wasn’t doing that he was demanding cups of tea from the nurses who, to my dismay, complied with his requests.

Before I get too high-handed about these dreadful patients, I should look at myself. This year I’ve had long-term treatment for a chronic wound, endless treatment for high blood pressure, and now I’m going to blow even more of the nation’s resources on chemotherapy, stoma bags and bowel surgery.

I’ve taken out way more than I’ve put in. I’m eternally grateful to everyone at the NHS and totally in awe of them all. I know how hard they work to qualify and I really appreciate the sacrifices they make to help other wretches like me.

Still, fine words to PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) butter no parsnips really, do they? (High fibre foods such as parsnips are off the menu for me anyway.)

I do wonder, however, if one way to fine-tune the NHS would be to manage patient expectations. Although not until I’ve got the all-clear from the colo-rectal team, naturally.

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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