Originally posted in the International Health Humanities Network blog on 10 January 2013.
Forgive me for the personal preamble to this blog post – but I want to contextualise what will follow.
I was recently admitted to hospital for planned surgery, at the Queen Elizabeth Woolwich which comes under South London NHS Trust in the UK. I have a chronic health condition which has required many surgical procedures over the past 12 years. Prior to this operation, I had spent many months in a huge amount of pain. This had a great impact on my day to day life. Having worked in the NHS for many years, I now educate nurses as a lecturer. As with most healthcare professionals, I struggle immensely with being a patient, finding it anxiety provoking, and an experience I am not comfortable with – I border on phobic with hospital admissions. Hence, I was very, very frightened about this procedure, necessitating a longer stay and with greater complication potential than my previous surgeries.
I need not have worried. Every single member of staff who cared for me, from domestic staff through to the nurses who were on duty during my admission and the medical staff, was outstanding. The nursing care was without fault – the nurses were compassionate, caring, had extremely good communication skills and demonstrated excellent clinical competence in terms of their pre and post operative care. Similarly, during the arranging months, I had much contact with administrative staff across both sites. All of these staff members were fantastic – polite, organised, supportive and calming at a time when I was struggling from a physical perspective and anxious about the procedure itself and the longer term implications of this. These staff are all a credit to the Trust, and were absolutely without fault in every communication I had with them. They really did go above and beyond their remit in helping us.
The particular Trust that I was admitted to is undergoing a well-publicised and very challenging time – as indeed are most NHS services in the age of austerity. Is spite of this, the care I received was fantastic.
Which got me to thinking the following – what was it about my care (aside from the physical benefits that have resulted) that meant I had such a positive experience? How does this relate to the IHHN’s core philosophy – ‘Bringing the Human Back into Health’? What could people take away from hearing about this? And how could I thank the staff, en masse, aside from the letter I wrote?
HUMANITY….At every stage, I felt like I was treated as a human being, as Charley Baker, who has anxieties and aspirations, a life outside of the hospital setting and the condition, rather than as a number, a patient, a mere body to be mended.
COMPASSION….The staff demonstrated genuine warmth and caring – the nurse who admitted me took the trouble to sit with me and put an arm around my shoulders when reassuring me about what was to come. This was a welcome tactile intervention in an otherwise coldly clinical environment.
COMMUNICATION….The nursing and care staff did not appear to be too busy to listen, though I have no doubt that they were incredibly busy. Procedures were explained in full to me, and to my husband, and we were given ample time to ask questions. My Consultant Surgeon excels in this area, as did every member of nursing and care staff. This made a huge difference. I also witnessed the care they provided for the other women in my bay of five – and it mirrored mine in positivity.
CONTINUITY….I have been under the care of Mr L. for many years, despite relocating to Derbyshire six years ago. On discussion with Mr L. and with family, we decided to keep my care at the London-based hospital. This continuity of care is vital in any long term condition.
COMPETENCE….I have every faith in my consultant’s competence – and the care staff carried out every intervention and procedure competently, kindly and swiftly. One issue with educating nurses is that inevitably I scrutinise procedures and results – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! But I did not need to have worried.
These are simple things, and things which I am sure I do not need to preach about to healthcare professionals at all levels. But they are things that can be hard to achieve in a time when staff numbers are being reduced, the drive for economic efficiency is at the forefront of developments, and when the caring professionals – in particular, nurses – are facing what seems to be a barrage of criticism at times in the press.
I wanted to write this blog post to celebrate the care I received, to thank the care teams involved, and to add my own small contribution towards buffering the seemingly relentless negativity that can surround issues such as these. I wrote to thank the hospital and the Trust, and also contacted them prior to writing this blog. As one of their communications officers said, while many people do experience good care, these are not the stories that make headline news, or are often acknowledged at a wider level. I’m glad to be in a position to celebrate the contributions that staff are making, in spite of incredibly challenging times. Thank you to them all.
Lecturer in Mental Health
University of Nottingham
School of Nursing,
Midwifery & Physiotherapy