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Local health services under a Labour government

The full correspondence, January to November 2010, relating to this issue may be seen here.
Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich
Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich.

With local and general elections due within five months I have wondered to what extent I might feel inclined to comment on the promises that may flutter through our letterboxes. It will be tempting to pass comment especially on local issues but I began to think that national issues weren’t very relevant to what I have aimed to do with this website. Until the last week that is, when I was rather forcibly reminded of how great an impact national policies can have on our lives - and I have immediately fallen to temptation.

I should perhaps mention straight away that I was not hoodwinked by Blair in 1997 and try as I might I cannot think of any action by the subsequent governments that I believed to be a thoroughly good idea. More than once I thought they were on a personal crusade to make my own existence as difficult and as expensive as they possibly could. I’m not even sure I will be issued with any Labour election material in 2010 on which to comment. I learnt from their canvasser in 2005 (who I met while briefly at a neighbour’s address) that I was no longer on their circulation list and I can only assume that was the result of what I said to them on the doorstep back in 2001. None of which makes me very likely to vote Conservative either.

But what brought this spot of political indignation to a head was a spell of illness I experienced this week. I have an acute allergy to gluten, coeliac disease to give it the correct clinical name. If I slip up with my diet my intestine goes into a shut down mode, gets very inflamed and won’t pass anything through. The pain is both excruciating and constant. Generally (for me) the worst of the pain occurs at night and lasts six to eight hours before passing away. I must have suffered it 30 plus times in my adult life and it’s something one learns to live with - if I eat carefully things are entirely normal.

However for most of Tuesday 13th January (after a restaurant meal on Monday) things didn’t feel entirely normal and by late evening and through the night the problem was taking its normal course - me writhing about in severe pain and crawling between bed and bathroom, not that anything can pass, and occasionally losing consciousness. Standing up and walking is near impossible. Morning did not bring the usual relief and things got worse. A friend dropped by and called my doctor (G.P.) who whilst sympathetic could only advise calling an ambulance. We agreed that if things weren’t on the mend I would dial 999 by 3 p.m. Meanwhile I was on my own, my only English speaking neighbours being away for a couple of days and my nearest relative being totally snowbound in North East Hampshire.

At 5.03 p.m., weak and still writhing, I managed to tap out 999 and made arrangements with the ambulance control to somehow get to my door and open it so that the ambulance crew could come straight in. Before long there was a knock on the door and I managed to call from a window that the door was open but two women insisted I get to the door and let them in. In practice it made little difference as the ambulance carried neither a stretcher nor a wheelchair and I had to make all progress myself anyway. I crawled like an animated inverted horseshoe to the ambulance parked in the snow some 50 feet away and struggled for some while to mount its steps. At no time did either women put out a steadying hand to minimise the stumbling through the snow or problems climbing the steps. I lay on the ambulance bunk while questions were asked and forms filled in. I noted that they claimed to have arrived at 5.17 - which I do not dispute - and we departed for Woolwich around 5.30. I became nauseous lying on the bed and when opting for the chair had to be strapped in with a belt across the most painful part of my anatomy.

En-route and stuck in the traffic one of the ambulance crew remarked “Now you know what a woman feels like when having a baby”. I wasn’t crying out in pain, it doesn’t actually do any good and I come from a generation of men that wasn’t allowed near birthing facilities so I have no idea how the experience compares. Neither does the ambulance woman unless she perhaps suffers from coeliac disease too. What I do know about child birth is that the cause of the pain is obvious and from what I have seen on TV a variety of pain killers are freely administered. I was denied any by the ambulance crew, maybe for good reasons, and I had been in that untreated state for 24 hours and unknown to me at the time was going to be for most of the following 48 hours. The comparison wasn’t valid and the remark insensitive, especially as I was due to become a grandfather for the first time later the same week.

On arrival at the QE Hospital I was asked if I needed a wheelchair and one of the ambulance crew went to fetch one. From comments passed to another ambulance crew I learned that mine was the only available chair in the department. I went through the reception area at 5.50 and was taken with almost no delay to a cubicle and somehow finished up slumped in a chair and alone. I slithered to the floor from where I had no inclination to get up. I was soon told by a female voice (I was in no state to look at or remember faces) that “you cannot lie there, get on the trolley”. The trolley must have been three feet off the ground and after a couple of failed attempts I managed to clamber on board. While I struggled someone observed that I was looking very pale but at no point did anyone offer a hand in support and my mouth was so dry that my tongue had stuck to the side of my mouth. Someone gave me a mild telling off for not speaking clearly.

The doctor (male) came quite quickly and said he would have to do some tests before he could attempt to ease the pain. So there was a prick to the right thumb, blood drawn from the left arm and a rather painful procedure on the right arm which I gather from overheard comments was something to do with blood sugar levels. This was then repeated equally painfully because as the doctor said, “the first one didn’t play the game”. Meanwhile there were checks of temperature, blood pressure and heart rate, so pretty thorough I would think. Whilst the second blood sugar test was being done a lady appeared (someone called her Sister unless I am mistaken) and had a whispered mini-argument with the doctor stating clearly that “pain relief is second only to airways” and why wasn’t I on a drip? In fact a drip plug thing had already been poked into my left arm and I was soon given morphine through it. When that had no noticeable effect a second shot was applied which didn’t get rid of the pain by any means as had been implied (“you will be happy within 30 seconds”) but it undoubtedly helped as did the constant drip to back it up, along presumably with something for my dehydration.

The doctor popped in quite often, asked a lot of questions about my coeliac history and seemed generally sympathetic. At 20.10 (I asked him the time) he said he thought I might be able to go home soon and I wondered how and whether I would be able to find someone who could come and collect me. While contemplating my predicament the doctor returned and said he was concerned we were jumping to too many conclusions in blaming the coeliac disease and started feeling my abdomen for other clues. He then sent me for X-ray and off I went with little delay on a trolley to a darkened X-ray department where I was surrounded by a small group of rather loud young children. When the X-ray staff dealt with me they never stopped discussing their social activities and I was barely aware of their instructions, let alone understanding of them, as they took two X-rays. I was processed like some piece of meat without any recognition that I may have been a just about living human. There was a bit of a wait before I went back to my A&E cubicle but once there the doctor soon showed up again. “There is a lot of inflammation in the intestine and a big pile of ‘poo’ stacked up behind putting pressure on it. We are going to have to keep you in”. So confirmation that I was suffering the same as in previous attacks except that this one was more intense and going on far longer than usual.

Within minutes someone came in to repeat some of the tests, temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate (I think) and take my personal details - for the third time. I was tagged with a wrist band bearing my name, date of birth and the number X400988285. Provided with a green plastic bag to store my clothes and the drip was removed (and then replaced) so that I could take off my shirt and get into a hospital gown. And there I waited, still in pain but less acute than before.

At 21.45 in came a lady who removed my drip and said I had to go home. No one enquired how I planned to get home through the snow, whether I had any money to get myself home (I had not) or whether there was anyone there or prepared to stay there when I arrived. There was not. So I was unceremoniously bundled out of A&E, with no medication for the problem, cause or effect, into the waiting area (with a short detour via a filthy toilet) where I was able to call a friend who I asked to arrange something on my behalf and then collapsed into a horizontal position and began the twitching while struggling to contain the pain. There were three staff at the desk when I went into the near empty waiting area and they neither knew where I had come from or asked why I was writhing about. I was there for 40 minutes before I was ferried to an empty house and no one at the waiting room reception desk had the decency to ask if I was OK. I was probably dismissed as yet another unshaven drunk.

So I spent the Wednesday night writhing in pain, alone, as I had done the previous night. Someone again called in next day and persuaded me to call my G.P. again. I was told he would call in to see me, but instead only ’phoned back to renege on the promise and offer platitudes. By lunchtime I was able to source, via friends, every laxative known to man; three self-administered enemas during the previous 24 hours had all failed to have any effect at all. At much the same time as the new medication arrived the seat of my pain moved slightly, which I regarded as a good sign, and it was a little bit less intense. However it was more than 24 hours later that the laxatives had any effect and the pain finally went away; something like 72 hours after it first appeared.

The hospital timings are interesting. As far as I can tell the medical care offered was pretty much OK, but someone in admin. over-ruled the doctor’s decision to admit me for further treatment within five minutes of the magic cut-off time; the four hour target imposed by our useless Labour government with the object of distorting statistics in yet another of their attempts to bamboozle the no longer gullible public. Obviously I should have argued my case more strongly. I did ask to speak to the doctor again before being shunted out of the cubicle but was told by a man on the internal reception desk he wasn’t available. Also that my name wasn’t registered on his computer so there was nothing at all that could be done to help. I should have become more assertive but being near doubled over with pain isn’t the best position from which to stand one’s ground.

Even if we are to be bundled out of A&E to satisfy a political target and our lives put in jeopardy as a direct result, surely someone should have the decency to enquire if we have a means of getting home and whether there is anyone to look after us? Decency and humanity, however, is not something the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich deals in, at least not at management level. Their people are nothing but potential murderers drawing fat salaries - and it is all Labour’s fault.

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