As Jedi Master Yoda would have remarked “Reassured, I not was!”


A tale of two medical visits (acknowledgement to Dickens). Two Saturdays ago, I had to go urgently to our local University Hospital North Durham (UHND): a day ago, I had to convoy my wife in a Patient Transport Service (PTS) Ambulance for a chest X-ray at the same hospital. Two different medical visits, two very differing outcomes.

As to my urgent trip to the A&E department, I copy the email sent to the Patient Experience Department, (their title, not mine):-

I was working in my back-garden on Saturday 4th August afternoon, hacking away at some overgrown bush, when I was stung on the eyelid by a bee. My eyelid swelled up and closed my eye completely, which prevented my driving, so I had to beg for a lift to the hospital from my neighbour. I was literally in agony, but despite asking at least twice for speedy access to medical help, was forced to wait in the laughingly-named Accident and Emergency queue for well over an hour/two hours before I was ushered into the ‘Triage’ room where three uniformed staff members performed their duties. I stated that I had been stung by a bee on my eyelid, and I was in great pain, but the remorseless note-taking, questions on such vital statistics such as how much alcohol did I drink were relentlessly pursued. After what seemed like another hour, but was actually around ten minutes: I was gravely handed a green plastic card, and told that I should have gone to the ‘Urgent Care’ facility, based at the end of the main corridor.

I arrived at the ‘Urgent Care’ sector, where I found two elderly staff people seated behind a desk, where I was informed, “just take a seat in the adult waiting room, and someone will attend.” There were about six or seven other people in this quaintly-named ‘Urgent Care’ facility, and upon enquiring, found no-one had come near, or been attended to for quite a while. After a very short while, I was in danger of losing my temper, so decided to ascertain who was supposed to be doing what, as besides my own immediate pain: I was intensely concerned about my wife, whom I was forced to leave alone in our house, as she has been ill for decades, and is unable to even move without my help. I asked, somewhat forcefully, to speak with someone in authority as to the progress of attending not only to my problems, but also everyone else’s who seemed to have been forgotten.

I was spoken to by an man of asian appearance, dressed in a purple/red uniform, and was told that all would be well, and please have patience. I replied that my patience had run out some time back, and all I was concerned with was being relieved from the bee-sting pain, and being able to return as quickly as possible to my wife.

After a further five minutes, I was ushered in to a room where I was treated by a nurse-practitioner (I think,), again dressed in purple/red-scrubs uniform. Once again, instead of being relieved from the severe pain I was experiencing, I was sat down and, once again, asked lots of questions by this young woman, whilst she tapped away at her keyboard. Eventually, I was told to lie down on the day-bed, and the young woman checked that I had indeed got a bee-sting, and the sting was still embedded in my eyelid. I was then amazed to see this young uniformed woman search through various desk drawers and then through her HANDBAG  for a pair of fine tweezers. She failed to find anything, and so approached my eye and plucked the sting out with her FINGERNAILS, complete, I believe, with nail-varnish, although I cannot confirm the last observation.

A young female doctor then entered the treatment room, gazed learnedly at a) my eyelid and then b) at the sting which had been extracted from my eyelid, and gravely stated “Yes, you have been stung by a bee, my father keeps bees and he gets stung all the time”; then disappeared as speedily as she had appeared. The young nurse-practitioner ( as I believe she was), then proceeded to print off an eye reading test, and holding it up asked me to read the letters; before pronouncing herself satisfied with my eyesight and reading skills. She then gave me a small pack of antihistamine pills, and packed me off.

I was very annoyed at the cavalier manner in which I was treated, being made to wait for what seemed like an age before being ‘interviewed’ by the Triage Trio, and then casually told that I should have gone straight to the Urgent Care facility (the name itself being a genuine source of sardonic amusement to those unfortunate enough to have to use it), but decided to leave things be but: after spotting a newspaper article about the effects of a single bee-sting, decided to write and complain in the strongest possible terms.  I was trained in engineering disciplines, I understand matters mechanical, civil and electrical; but leave health-related matters to those who have been trained in such things, and therefore was unaware that death can and does occur with a SINGLE BEE STING due to the onset of anaphylactic shock.

All I knew was that I was in great pain, the source of relief was the hospital, and I managed to get to the UHND as fast as I could. The lady who tapped out and filled in my details at the A&E counter was obviously a civilian, and thus unknowing of the necessity for speedy action to prevent the possible onset of shock such as experienced by the unfortunate man who was bitten with a single sting, but the red-uniformed person, seated behind the same A&E counter whom I spoke to TWICE was such a person, trained with some medical knowledge, even though she was obviously not a doctor.  I was casually informed that there was a queue, the A&E department was busy, and I should be seated, and be patient, and await my turn at ‘Triage’.

It is my view that the UHND ought to urgently review its whole ethos around A&E, as well as the “Urgent Care” facility, and inform the people who work there that they are there to do one job, to serve the public, and not to arrange things so that they are the ones not pressurised, not to live their lives at NHS speeds, which is about two-thirds to one-half of the speed which everyone else works at!

I was contacted this morning by a member of the ‘Experience team’, and taken thought the parts of my complaint which needed to be reviewed. Which was fine, but even this person didn’t understand my frustration, and not only mine, but everyone else’s who sat in that dusty, slightly grubby A&E waiting room, that there was absolutely no idea, no sense of ‘Emergency or Urgency’, no signs of anyone hurrying to engage with the people who were queuing to be attended to by our ‘World-Leading NHS’. She stated that my complaint would be reviewed, and I would be advised of the outcome. She also casually stated that I had no need to worry about the possible onset of anaphylactic shock from this bee-sting. I asked why I should not have worried, and she replied that if such shock occurred, it would have been instantaneous, I would have been unable to breathe; and I would be dead!

As Jedi Master Yoda would have remarked “ Reassured, I not was!”

The second appointment was enabled with the help of the PTS to transport my wheelchair-bound wife to the UHND main X-ray department for a chest X-ray. We were picked up by the PTS ambulance team at 10.45, delivered to the hospital after one detour to pick up another wheelchair-using patient, moved to the main X-ray room where my wife was wheeled in after a wait of five minutes, X-rayed and moved back almost immediately. The reception staffer called the PTS team, and we had to wait literally ten minutes before our transport team arrived to take my wife back to the ambulance and then home: a total time for the trip there and back, plus the X-ray; of 1.75 hrs. To the PTS, and to the Main X-ray guys at UHND, a ‘well-done’ from my wife and I!

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