My past experiences of the NHS A&E service were not very positive.
In 1978 I went over the handlebars of my bike and smashed up my left arm; I had a shattered elbow, fractured wrist and mild concussion. I was found by a man who took me to hospital in his car — an exquisitely painful journey — but it meant I walked into A&E. I was ‘triaged’ by the nurse at the desk as a non-urgent case and told to sit down and wait. I waited, in agony, for some time before I lost control and started screaming uncontrollably, which got me some attention.
In 1988 I was rushed to hospital with a life-threatening kidney infection. I’d been unable to keep down the antibiotics I’d been prescribed and needed to be given them intravenously. Despite arriving in an ambulance, I was then put on a trolley and not seen for an hour and a half. Keeping hydrated is vital with kidney problems, but nobody put me on a drip and I may have only survived because my mum kept ferrying me paper cups of water from the washroom. Eventually I was found a bed on a nursing ward, only because the ward sister decided to ‘uncut’ the three beds on the ward she wasn’t supposed to fill.
Of course, that was the height of Thatcherism. Whom we gave a state funeral including a lift on a gun carriage. And not one leading politician had the courage to refuse to attend…. all unprincipled cowards and wimps. But I digress.
In around 1994 I spilt some boiling water on my foot. I only attended A&E because my brother was visiting and he insisted on taking me. After we’d waited for two hours to be seen we went home and I dressed the wound myself.
I’ve just related this series of anecdotes (and I have more) because they contrast with my recent experience at Barnstaple. It’s been my bad luck to have to attend A&E twice in the last two months. The first time was because flashing lights and floaters in front of my left eye indicated a risk of a detached retina, and the second was because I’d broken the fifth metatarsal on my left foot.
On the first occasion at Barnstaple A&E I did have a wait, not long, maybe half an hour, but I think that was because they had to get an eye doc over from the eye clinic. On the second occasion, for my broken foot, I was seen within minutes and was plastered and discharged within an hour, with an appointment at the fracture clinic for the following Monday. Even at the fracture clinic I was seen within five minutes of my appointment time.
This is marvellous. This is not the NHS I’ve been nervous about putting myself at the mercy of in old age. I keep reading that the NHS is in crisis, which may be true, but crisis is a relative term, and for the NHS, I suspect it has a different meaning for those of us whose expectations of the health service were forged in the seventies and eighties.