The opening ceremony of the Olympics including a celebration of the National Health Service. Having experienced or heard about health provision in other countries I'm very grateful for the NHS in the UK but how long can it last? In fact, is it already on the way out? According to the media it is on the decline but then I'm trying not to be taken in by everything I hear in the media.
So how else can I judge? Well, by my own observations! I've had more contact with the NHS recently than I care to think about really.
The aim of the NHS and the Social Services is to safeguard the public health and get help to the people who most need it and support them through difficult times until they can stand on their own feet again. Temporary help working towards a long term solution. Or so I had always supposed.
My brother is primary carer for both of our parents. He's been brilliant but recently suffered some health problems. A scare in the middle of the night, a visit from the ambulance service, and news that although not life-threatening - thank God - he was too ill to look after them for a while and needed a well-earned break.
So, there we were, in need of help and support. I work full-time so took three days compassionate leave to arrange respite care. But what to do? What could be done? What help was there out there? Where to look? Where to START?
I started with the Social Services and to begin with they were very helpful, right up to the point where they investigated our finances. Unfortunately, as it turned out, Dad had been saving for some work to be done on the house. Because of this we're just over the border to be eligible for financial help.
So, there I was, part way down the process of finding two placements, pending a call regarding availability in the county, when I get a call to say we weren't eligible for funding. Ok, those are the rules, we don't have to like them but we accept them. I waited for the call back about availability of respite places in the county, fully prepared to pay, but it never came. I phoned for an update to be told 'you're self-funding, we can't help any more'. Oh, well that's all right then, if you're self-funding you obviousy know automatically what's available and where to go!
It was like a slap round the face. I was desperately trying to organise some help, while coping with my parents needs, look after my brother and do some semblance of work from home to cover the sudden absence. Luckily for me we have good friends who rallied round and between us we got it sorted and found places for my parents to stay while my brother was recovering.
So much for temporary support pending a long term solution!
Not a very good episode with the Social Services; how about the NHS? While in respite care my father was taken ill and taken to hospital. He nearly didn't get out of the ambulance, the electronic back door was broken. He was admitted, finally, and spent four days there. I went in one day to find he was still in bed, they hadn't got him into his chair that day for some reason, and was struggling to eat his dinner. He has trouble with his arms and although fine when in a chair he couldn't get the fork to his mouth while in bed. He'd given up after managing to feed some to his armpit and was trying to drink the juice from a small bowl of fruit when I got there, even though he couldn't get to the fruit itself.
I was fuming, I helped him eat while fending off an orderly who wanted to take his tray away. I'd phoned earlier to see how he was but they won't discuss patients details over the phone, quite understandably for confidentiality reasons, they tell you to speak to the nurse when you come in. I waited two and a half hours. First you have to identify a nurse, not obvious from the different unifirms around. Then it was...I'm on medication rounds, I'll come back in a minute; I can't find my notes from when I took over the shift, I'll come back to you; she's with a new admission, she'll be with you shortly; she's in hand-over (shift change), at which point I realised I was going to be back to square one with a new nurse who's...just taken over, I'll find the patient notes and come back to you!
Yes, they're busy and yes, I'm prepared to wait but crumbs, there are limits! Why were any notes so hard to find? How did they expect to look after patients if they don't know their condition? It's not very re-assuring. Eventually I was told to ring during the day and speak to someone then - I told them they wouldn't speak to me on the phone for confidentiality reasons, oh that's ok just set up a password and we'll talk to you!
I can't tell you how angry I was, as a family we've had too many admissions in the last few years and this is the first time anyone has mentioned a password, and then only because I told them I wasn't moving until I'd spoken to someone - politely I hasten to add, I was friendly and reasonable through it all, outwardly at least.
We were glad he came out after four days but a week or so later received a letter calling him to attend for a 24-hour ECG because they'd found some irregularities in his heart while he was there. WHY NOT DO THAT WHILE HE WAS WITH THEM? Why make him come back later?
There were other problems but hey, enough's enough in one post. What rubs salt in the wound is all the notices advising patients and visitors there is a zero tolerance policy towards agression towards NHS staff. Quite right, anyone who abuses someone verbally or physically who is trying to help them not only needs their head examined but should be shoved out the door without treatment. The only problem is that some of the staff take this as carte blanche to be as rude and unhelpful as possible in the sure knowledge that we can't retaliate.
Mostly the help is there but it is getting worse and ours are not the only bad experiences, I've learned about many others amongst friends and acquaintances.
The media have been reporting on similar problems around the country and one of the things they highlight is that some people view the NHS and Social Services not as a temporary support but a lifestyle choice and entitlement. Those of us who try and make our own way but call for help in emergencies find we are on our own. It doesn't help that our health service seems to be available to all-comers, it means the funds aren't there to help legitimate needs. Health tourists - those who come specifically for medical services with no intention of paying; immigrants - who have rights to health services and social services without having paid any money in. The stories are seemingly endless and I don't just hear about them in the media, I hear of personal experiences.
Sadly I believe the reports in the media on this subject and I foresee lots of trouble if the Government doesn't get to grips with it, we're mugs. I can fully understand the rage and frustration of people who are constantly giving but not receiving, seeing others benefit from services their own money is funding yet they are not able to access.
Please forgive the rant, it's not as though I've not submitted constructive ideas through the government website, I have, but there comes a time when all that's left is to complain!