I was referred to the UK earlier this year to undergo surgery in a specialist unit at an NHS hospital. This operation was unavailable in Ireland unfortunately so I had to pack my bags and head across the water to the unfamiliar territory of the NHS. Having ‘done time’ on numerous occasions in Irish hospitals, I was interested to see how the UK would compare. The conclusion I came to was that nursing care in the NHS has ‘gone bananas’.
My first impression of the hospital was a good one. On admission, my immediate surroundings appeared spotlessly clean and modern – a far cry from the appalling conditions found in many parts of the Irish health service. I was allocated a bed in a tiny room (no en suite facilities) beside the Nurses’ Station – this room had glass doors to it to facilitate observation of the patient. I thought that this easy visibility would limit any hope of privacy but in fact, it worked to my advantage. The glass doors provided a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the daily activities of the ward staff and this was a source of much entertainment throughout my stay. I did wonder however if the fact that I was a ‘Paddy’ with a history of previous MRSA infection (and recurrence) might not be the real reason why I’d been put in this room. Anyway, I was duly installed as a patient and was whisked off to theatre a few hours later, to go under the knife.
When I next ‘came to’ I was back in the same little room but this time I had to share it with all the paraphernalia associated with having had major surgery – the drips, drains, monitors etc. I lay there in a morphine-induced stupor in full view of the nurses and watched the world go by. I waited and waited for a nurse to appear at my bedside to offer some reassurance but as time went on, I realised that this was a false hope. The nurses only came into my room whenever they had to record my vital signs and even then, there was little or no personal interaction. It was like as if the patient was superfluous to the job in hand. When I was originally diagnosed with MRSA, I was barrier nursed but now this was different type of isolation. I could see endless activity at the nurses’ station with nurses filling out forms etc. but it appeared that very little time was actually spent with the patients. In Ireland, the nurses generally (though not always) interact well with their patients despite also being very busy. It soon became obvious that huge differences exist between our two healthcare systems in terms of nursing care. The NHS may be better in some respects than it’s counterparts here but it lacks the personal touch that thankfully still exists in Ireland. I cannot complain about the medical care I received from the NHS but the standard of nursing left me cold. Not once during my stay did any nurse ask the simple question of “how are you today?“. My medication was dispensed at regular intervals throughout the day without any explanations given. I simply wasn’t consulted at all. And there was definitely no humour to be had despite my best efforts to attract a smile. I have a lot of experience of spending time in hospital and so I’m not easily unnerved by hospital procedures but I can still imagine how frightening it must be for inexperienced patients to be left alone to cope in an unfamiliar environment. I appreciate that nursing these days is very hard work and sadly, it is also often a thankless task. However I’m in no doubt that patient care is compromised when nursing loses it’s personal touch.
After several days of observing the activities of the NHS, I devised a plan to put the ‘system’ to the test. Every morning a junior nurse would come into my room to offer a simple breakfast menu of “Weetabix/Cornflakes, Tea and Toast?“. The choice never varied. Each item of food dispensed had to be ticked off on a list by the nurse. I decided to ‘rock the boat’ one day and request a banana with my cereal. The nurse looked at me in despair having studied the menu, and replied “we don’t ‘do’ bananas at breakfast time“. It was hard not to laugh at this reply but I persisted in my request (out of sheer devilment) and the nurse got more and more flustered as she continued to scour her list for a ‘banana’ box to tick. Eventually I had to tell her that I knew that there were bananas in the ward kitchen and all she had to do was to walk a short distance to fetch one. After a long pause, she left the room and returned with the said banana. I felt like I’d scored a victory! Sad, isn’t it? But this is the sort of behaviour you’re reduced to when subjected to hospital care that is not patient-centred. This is a small, but clear example of how target driven the NHS has become. Nursing care it seems, is now all about ticking the boxes. I got such pleasure out of beating the system that day and by the way – the banana was delicious too!