Fun With the NHS

imageAfter nearly a week of mild flu, a nasty cold and feeling like my head is full of cotton wool, I awoke the other day to find that one side of my face was completely blocked, including my ear. As there wasn’t any pain involved, I decided to leave it for a few days before going to the doctors, assuming that the blockage was due to congestion and pressure from being ill. However, when it hadn’t gone away yesterday, I rang my doctors to book an appointment.

I love the NHS. It’s an absolutely wonderful service and when I or my friends and family have had to go into hospital we have been treated with care and compassion by underpaid staff who still manage to give a smile despite working ridiculously long hours and receiving lots of abuse in return for their efforts.

However, I can’t say the same about my local surgery. There have been a number occasions where I have needed treatment in the last ten years and I have had to wait for days and sometimes weeks to get appointments, been rudely spoken to by apathetic doctors and staff, and in many cases have had to insist on receiving antibiotics for things like urinary tract infections. Of course, I have no medical training and don’t assume that I know better, but when tests have shown that blood is in my urine, I know that it needs something to clear it up. My resident GP is less than sympathetic, often sitting back in his chair and using Google to find out what he should do. Seriously. His response to a kidney infection a few years ago? A set of yoga classes for my back pain, that could only be scheduled on Monday afternoons during the time I would be at work. Despite this, I’ve stayed with them for nearly ten years because they’re close to where I live, the only other one available being quite a distance away.

It all came to a head at the beginning of last year when I was hospitalised for nearly a week with a massive kidney infection and a virus. It was serious – they originally thought that it was meningitis and then pneumonia – and I’ve never felt so ill in my life. After I was discharged, I was told that I had to have follow up blood tests at my doctors to ensure that everything had fully recovered, and so I had to battle to get an appointment with the nurse when I got home. She did the tests, and a week later I received a phone call to say that I would have to come in again and have the tests redone because ‘my blood had clotted’ and they were unable to use the sample I had been given. The next available appointment? A week later. I went in again, and the following week the same thing happened – this time they blamed the hospital for the fact that my sample was unable to be used – and asked me to make another appointment, stating that they could ‘fit me in’ at some point in the next week.

I’m never usually one to complain or lose my temper, but by this point I was angry. I’d been really ill, I had been forced to move house at the same time due to an unfortunate experience with a charlatan landlord, my beloved cat had just died and I was having a really rough time, and I asked to speak to the Practise Manager. I knew why the samples weren’t able to be used – instead of storing them properly, the nurse had simply written my name on the side of the tube and put it in a Tupperware box near the window – but the manager wasn’t having any of it. We exchanged a number of angry words, and that was it. No follow up, no tests, nothing.

However, as yesterday was an emergency, I decided to grit my teeth and ring them for an appointment. I was told to come to the surgery at 2.00pm to get my appointment, only to be told when I arrived that no appointments would be available until 4.30pm. When I gave them my details, they couldn’t find me on the computer system, eventually telling me that I had been de-registered. Their excuse? They had sent a letter which I hadn’t replied to, so they assumed I had moved away. It eventually transpired that they hadn’t got my new address on the system, despite obviously being given it because of the blood tests I’d had the previous year – I wouldn’t have been able to make the appointments without it. I pointed this out, adding that I’ve had the same phone number for the last ten years and they could have rang me at any time, but this was dismissed. I was then asked to fill out all my paperwork again, which I did, and then I was told that instead of being able to have an appointment for the afternoon I would have to have an introductory check-up on Monday before the doctor could check my ear. Unbelievably, one of the doctors was standing next to me in reception when they were telling me this, and when I explained that I had a half-marathon on Sunday she told me to go to a walk-in centre on the other side of the city if I wanted it to be checked.

I just burst into tears – I’ve been feeling crap all week – and told them to forget it. So, instead of going to work today I’ve had to ring them and tell them that I can’t come in, which has cost me money, and I’m going to have to go to the walk-in centre instead. It’s blatantly obvious that the Practice Manager has deleted me from the system because she was angry…

May their crotches be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels, and may their arms be too short to scratch.

What about you guys? Have you had any stressful healthcare experiences?

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66 thoughts on “Fun With the NHS

  1. That is so disgusting! And what a spiteful so and so to remove you from their system. Not sure which health care system is better, yours or what we have in the States. I hope you will get better soon Suzie.

    • Thanks John! I think that we’re incredibly lucky to have the NHS here – everyone is entitled to treatment regardless of their financial situation and we pay via our taxes rather than insurance, but there are certain surgeries like this all over the country… Completely incompetent!

  2. I’m with you on the NHS–it’s wonderful and (since I grew up in the States and have a point of comparison) I’ve gotten involved in the campaign to keep the current government form wrecking it any more than they already have. But there seems to be a strong streak of paternalism in the medical system here–both in the NHS and in private medicine–that says “We know best, now shut up and do what we say. Even if what we say is Go away.” Wishing you the best.

  3. Unprofessional and incompetent – and this is why so many people in the US have been fighting against national health insurance. They’re afraid we’ll end up with the kind of awful medical care you wrote about. I’d never before read of anyone having such terrible experiences trying to get medical care and am angry that you’ve had consistently poor treatment. I don’t know what the answer might be, but you have an awful system in Birmingham. My father was a physician and took great pride in providing excellent care to every patient. He was in private practice for decades before joining a large medical group. He never let their sometimes short-sighted bureaucratic decisions impact his medical ethics for those he served. I hope you get well soon, Suzie – and I hope your system gets overhauled so that your citizens can get the decent health care services to which you’re all entitled.

    • Thanks so much Sharon! The hospital in Birmingham is fantastic, and I know of several surgeries that are great, but unfortunately mine has been getting away with incompetency for a very long time…

  4. Aw Suzie that’s horrible, sorry… I once had an NHS appointment, and the nurses made me wait and wait for about half an hour in a miserable state (tonsillitis) as they had called my name before I was in the waiting room, but I was a minute or so late as I had to fill out stuff at the reception.
    I hope that things will sort themselves out.
    I am always stressed when I have to get my daughter checked by the paediatrician (who always measures her wrong and tells me she is too skinny). Here in France you have to get your kids checked every month in the first 6 months and then a bit more spaced out, by the time their 6 it’s 20 mandatory visits to the doctor…

    • Half an hour in the doctors is bad – sorry you had to experience that. If you go to the hospital without an appointment you’re pretty much guaranteed to wait two or three hours… Sounds like things are much better there!

      • You always need an appointment but for a GP you can get it in the day or at least in the next 24 hours. Specialists are a bit tougher. Now I am in Paris so even they have short waits. Before I had to wait 6 weeks for a certain appointment but as the doctor is no longer alone it only takes 2 weeks. Here the emergency rooms can be a catastrophe too…

      • Wow, half an hour is expected here in Kokomo, IN USA. I’ve waited as long as 90 minutes when I’ve arrived on time. I switched Dr. because of this, and the new one is a little better, and does a little better on the medical side, but now she’s leaving and I’m grandfathered to another Dr. Sigh.

        I wish we had socialized/single payer health care in the US, so many of us can’t get insurance (although the affordable care act has reduced that number, it hasn’t eliminated it) and those without a lot of money who can get insurance often have to choose between daily living expenses and insurance payments.

        I’m lucky enough to be disabled (can you imagine me saying that?) so I get Medicaid, which wouldn’t be as good as it sounds because I get more than the average disability payment and would be penalized. But since I get paid for giving 2 speeches a month on living well with mental illness, I qualify for a special program for those who are disabled, but still work. I’m just waiting for our republican governor to eliminate this nice program, which he can because such programs are operated at the state level, not the federal.

        A lot of people cite problems like you are having and say that a single payer system here would be awful, but they are generally middle class folk at one of the disappearing firms that still provide health insurance for their employees, or are wealthy enough to be insulated from money concerns of all kinds.

        Sorry about the rant, but this irritates me.

      • You never have to apologise for ranting – I always like a conversation! I’m very grateful to have the NHS system here – I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford insurance until a few years ago and I love the fact that everyone is entitled to free healthcare. We pay for our medications if we work, and normally each prescription is about £8.00 so it’s a bargain. Unfortunately, that means that the system relies on government funding, and the present government are desperately trying to starve the NHS of as much funding as possible…

    • Don’t get me started on meds! I’m lucky enough with my plans to pay between $0.00 and $6.00 for meds (although opiods and benzos aren’t fully covered), but before I could get Medicaid, part of the year (don’t ask for an explanation as to whey “part of the year”, “the doughnut hole” confuses many over here) I had to pay full price. My meds cost a little under $2000.00 (yes that’s’ 2,000) a month, and I had to do without some of the more expensive ones and make do with older ones that didn’t work as well, or had nasty side effects. Some of them I just didn’t have that option either.

  5. Hi Suzie – I hope your visit to the walk-in place is better. Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of GP Practice Frogs before you meet the Handsome Prince.

    A friend of mine who’s a nurse told me a scary story recently – often the people who take blood or do the ‘nurse’ appointments or help with minor ops at GP practices aren’t trained in any way that the patient would imagine. A friend of hers was working as receptionist at a GP’s and was asked if she wanted to take extra training to take on some extra responsibility at the practice. She said yes and, as my friend tells it, after a week’s training, was set up with appointments, alone, with patients who had been sent to a ‘nurse’ rather than a doctor. A little, very little, extra training and she was taking bloods. And assisting doctors at minor ops.

    She’s not enjoying the extra responsibility because she has neither the experience nor the support to do her job properly. But she’s cheaper, much cheaper than a qualified nurse or phlebotomist. And she’s nice to the patients. But it’s not right, is it?

    • I don’t *think* that happens here in the US. I hope.

      I am currently taking classes to be a Certified Medical Assistant. I am being taught clinical skills such as drawing blood, giving injections, checking blood pressure, etc. as well as office skills focused on medical practices.

      This isn’t some quick, throw the clerk into the back type of thing, it’s a 2 year associate’s degree, the same amount of time as a nurse. The focus is different, and unlike a nurse, I have a good chance at landing a job at a Dr. office rather than the stressful nightmare that faces most nurses, as they typically have to work for years on a hospital floor, where they might have 25 patients at a time, or a nursing home where they have maybe 50 to 100 patients at a time. After that for maybe 2 to 5 years after they graduate, then maybe they can get a job at a Dr. office. Except that more, and more, those jobs are going to medical assistants. I’ll get paid less than a nurse, but I think maybe I can do it with my disability (bipolar, anxiety, and OCD (which thank God for someone wanting to work in the medical field, does not involve fear of germs!))

      Sorry to go on and on again, I must be in a chatty mood today.

      • I hope it is different and I think it is different in the US. You have a more longstanding, and I think less sexist, idea of ‘a nurse’. When I lived in California, back in the 80s, I was really impressed at how differently American friends who were/are nurses were treated by patients and staff (in general – nothing 100% good or bad). The expectations on their knowledge and their ability to make independent decisions was strikingly different.

        I think the ‘give a receptionist a quick train up to do nurse-type things’ is not best practice here in the UK and it plays on the public’s perception of a ‘nurse’ as somebody well-trained (for years for ‘real’ nurses) and knowledgeable. It’s a money-saver to have somebody who is basically a member of the public with a week’s training assisting at minor ops, taking bloods and dealing with patients. The trained-up receptionist gets trapped by the patients’ expectations and ends up keeping the GP practice’s secret – that they’re not a ‘nurse’ in the properly medically -trained sense that the patient in front of them is imagining.

        Your associate’s training sounds quite different. Also, if you’re wearing a name-tag that says Associate, then your patients know who you are and have an idea of what you know. You’re not a receptionist in nurse’s clothing. You’re a properly trained individual.

        I hope, for the sake of the NHS here, that the receptionist/nurse switch is a rare mistake. For all I know, it only happens in my friend’s friend’s GP practice. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  6. My father is an ENT surgeon and would be absolutely appalled to read this story. The patient’s health should always come first. I hope someone takes the time to get to the bottom of whatever the issue is, and I really hope you still are able to run your race after working so hard. However, if you do run, please be satisfied with completing the race rather than try to beat a personal time. Even the smallest infection in the lung can have a huge effect when you are pushing your body at marathon levels.

  7. I am sorry you have been feeling so bad, especially since your half-marathon is just around the corner. I pay an enormous amount of health insurance every year. Every time I call my primary care doc, it is a 2-3 week wait even for urgent things like fevers etc. I had pertussis 3 years ago and it took me a week and a half to get in. It is so frustrating. Nothing is worse than feeling sick and helpless at the same time. Get better!!!!!!

    • I’m so sorry about the late reply! I’m feeling much better, and got through the marathon thank goodness, but I think this story is far from over… Thanks so much for all your continuing support – it’s much appreciated!

  8. My therapist that, with me seeing her for treatment for bulimia, told me to eat less and exercise more? And not in a “I know you have this problem but are also overweight and need to get healthy so let’s figure out a solution to both” way, but literally as “whenever you feel like you need to binge/purge, just don’t eat and exercise for an hour instead”.

    Yeah, I’m still kinda pissed over that one.

    (and yes, she knew about my history with anorexia years ago too :/ )

    I’m sorry you had such a lousy experience when feeling so bad too.

  9. That’s really awful. I’m with you in that I think the NHS is a great system, yet there are parts of it that require so much bureaucracy that they don’t work properly any more. Until recently, you couldn’t book ahead at my GP surgery – if you wanted an appointment, you had to ring up in the morning – if they were full, you had to ring again the next day, a real pain. They have changed that now, thank goodness, and I’m happy with my GP there. However, earlier this year I had to have exploratory surgery for something, then another, far more serious, operation. I was assigned a specialist, yet I never met him – all of my appointments were handled by a doctor working under him. Which would have been fine, if he wasn’t just awful. The exploratory surgery left me in a worst state than before I went in, and when I went to discuss this with him and talk about the major surgery, I felt almost as though I were just an experiment to him, a way to qualify for specialist, rather than an actual human being. As it turned out, we were insured privately through my husband’s work, and so I was able to have the surgery done at a private hospital with a different specialist and it all turned out very well – I dread to think what would have happened had I stayed with the other doctor. However, I will say that all the NHS hospital care I had was fantastic – the nursing staff and other doctors I encountered were caring and conscientious in every way. I do hope you make a complaint about your clinic – they sound terrible. And good luck this weekend – don’t push things too hard! xx

    • Thanks Helen – I’m so sorry for the late reply to this comment! It’s so lucky you had the insurance – Lord knows what would have happened if you didn’t! So sorry you had to go through all that!

  10. Horrid. No other word for it. Down the years I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences for sure. Interestingly right now the MIL who has a GP phobia but needs regular checks for her diabetes is registered with our local surgery. As a result we use them constantly and understand the system. She sees the same man – given how he deals with her neurosis the man is a saint – and actually listens to him. So, for now lucky. And as a regular user not caught out because of pettyfogging changes that defeat someone like you who goes once in a blue moon – like telephone triaging they now have.

  11. So sorry to hear about this Suzie. It’s the last thing we need when we are not feeling well. I often wonder why they employ some dragons as Doctor’s receptionists. Some are great, but some are like something out of a Horror movie.

    I visited our wonderful NHS yesterday as I had to give some blood for some tests. This is what happened when I stepped up to the reception desk.

    Me: “Hello, I’m here for some blood tests.”

    Receptionist does not look up at me and picks up a number disc and throws it on the counter. Then she points to some chairs and carries on with what she is doing on the computer.

    Me: “Thank you. So, I need to sit over there and wait until my number is called?”

    Receptionist does not look at me and points again to the chairs without looking away from her computer.

    I sat down and wait until my number is called.

    Fortunately, the nurse who took my blood was very welcoming and chatty and smiled a lot.

    I hope you are feeling much better soon.
    Take care.

      • Exactly, although I have been on the other side of the coin when I worked at Selfridges and had to deal with rude customers. Blood boiling encounters where you had to keep your cool. All part of the training I guess.

      • So sorry for the late reply Hugh! That’s why I always try and be as polite as possible as in my service jobs I was treated really badly by customers, but I hate the way some people behave in their jobs and are allowed to keep them!

  12. Oh so many bad experiences!! I was once told that the pain in my tummy was due to psychosomatic symptoms – basically he was telling me I was a nutbag – thanks doc, just turns out I was gluten and dairy intolerant – that old chestnut. Also as a kid the same doctor loaded me with painkillers and made me take a CAT scan to figure out why I was having so many headaches. Turns out I needed glasses – the thought never crossed his mind! Hoping you’re feeling better and well done on the half marathon, you’re a champ!! xo

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