I was totally disillusioned after reading the articles in the Hemel Gazette (28 March 2018) about the NHS shambles of the West Herts Hospitals.My personal experience of healthcare in Dacorum was excellent when I fell ill just before Christmas in 2014.The paramedics arrived within minutes and assessed my condition. They whisked me off to Watford General Hospital for emergency treatment. At around 6:30am, after about a high speed 20 minute journey, we arrived and was introduced to the consultant, Mr Anderson, and his team who were going treat me.
The operating theatre was ready but there was a tense, lengthy debate over the availability of a bed. Luckily, everything went ahead and I am here to tell the tale.The paramedics, nurses, consultant and doctors were all wonderful and I am truly indebted to them for their care.
However, three days later I had to be re-admitted again after being discharged prematurely. My GP had visited me at home and, expressing his concern, telephoned the hospital for re-admission direct to the ward.No bed was available and I spent the first night on a trolley in the admissions lounge. Again the doctors and nurses were excellent both in making me comfortable and treatment. The next day I was on the ward in time to celebrate Christmas in Watford Hospital.
On reflection, I believe NHS management pressures on front line staff resulted in little continuity of treatment. Hence my erroneous premature discharge from hospital. Nursing staff and doctors were being shifted around from unit to unit depending on their speciality. One doctor would visit in the morning and say I could now be tried on solid food, then later in the afternoon, without having chance to eat a meal, the senior nurse informed me that I would discharged the next day. I expressed my concern that I hadn’t seen a doctor for reassessment and she replied to the effect, ‘you were grateful for this bed, so you should now vacate it for someone else’. I still felt poorly and now had pangs of guilt too.
Later in the same year I had elective surgery on a separate problem. This was a case of third time lucky after two operation dates were postponed. One by St Albans City Hospital who said they didn’t have suitable facilities and one by Watford Hospital due to work load.Afterwards, I then had a resultant problem that entailed a return visit to Watford A&E. There was also a situation when it came to having some clips removed. First there was no one at my GP surgery that could do it and I was referred to Hemel Hempstead Urgent Care Centre who it turned out didn’t have the necessary special pliers.
The NHS say they have adopted government policy of choice of hospital for all. I doubt this is such an easy option as treatment in the local area is becoming so limited as seeming to be no choice at all because, when it comes to medical treatment in hospital, voting with our feet is not so practical when local hospitals and associated emergency services are either closing or cannot cope with demands of the populous.
A family relation fractured a hip. The patient was taken by ambulance to Watford A&E Department. We were retrospectively informed that healthcare managers had stipulated the destination and there was no other, more local option.When it came to this hospital admission, again there were no practical choices; the on-site unit, go private, or suffer in pain! In retrospect the patient received good nursing care although, being a ‘Specialist Unit’, they initially failed to look at the ‘whole person’ and did not diagnose an additional bladder problem.
In the distant past, another of my relatives had excellent treatment in St Albans City Hospital with fast, efficient follow-up and on-going support. However, we are told that we must not dwell on the past, instead we all should move on and concentrate on the future
So far this year (Spring 2018) there is even a public notice in our GP surgery stating that the NHS is under pressure and there is a limit of one ailment per urgent appointment. On occasions I have tried to phone my local GP surgery or, in the past, wanted to speak to a specific hospital doctor’s secretary only to find that both can be as frustrating as calling the proverbial inefficient commercial call centre.
The population in the Dacorum area is increasing with the extensive home building programme in the area, whilst the local healthcare bureaucrats have downgraded what was our state-of-the-art hospital! This reorganisation favours other hospitals in neighbouring boroughs. In consequence they have transferred staff and doctors to these other hospitals to create ‘Specialist Units’. Among these transfers are Maternity, Acute A&E and Orthopaedic services. Everyone, presumably including NHS strategists, are supposed to be Creating Sustainable Communities. Not being aware of the Defra definition of a Community, we can only assume that they have taken health equality, well-being, environmental CO2 and noise pollution by road transport into consideration when they transferred these medical units to specialist centres.
NHS care seems to have come full circle starting originally with local Cottage Hospitals, then these gave way to larger General Hospitals, moving on to Regional Hospitals with local GP Surgeries, State-of the-art Local Hospitals with Health Centres, and now the introduction Regional Specialist Hospitals. It has been said that the future is with community treatment centres, no doubt another fancy name for the modern day equivalent of those original Cottage Hospitals?
In similar reorganisational situations, it seems frequently there are news items about things going wrong to which there are mitigating announcements in legalese. At best, for example, they will usually say “there is an on-going investigation and are unable to pre-empt the findings of the official enquiry and comment until a report is published. We will note findings of the enquiry, learn from any mistakes made, and will improve going forward."Announcements usually followed up by “I am sure our patients will sympathise when we say that we have undergone a major reorganisation. Our dedicated medical team have invested valuable time and effort to make this transition as smooth as possible and minimise any disruption. We have been through a learning curve and apologise to those few who have experienced isolated problems. Our new structure is a positive step and we have already made significant improvements.”
The most recent culture is to blame the post 2nd World War baby-bulge (aka the older baby-boomers) generation for pressure of social care and finances, as though successive governments were unaware and completely taken by surprise. It is recognised that those born after WW2 rebuilt Britain and created the welfare state which has since been systematically dismantled. We all know that austerity measures brought in by the government aggravated most of these social problems. Successive governments have continued with free market monetarism policies (aka Thatcherism) and as we found in the financial crash of 2008, they don’t always work. Population statistics show that the next baby-boomer retirement peak will start in about 15 years time. The government are now discussing the introduction of an extra income tax ring-fenced specifically for the NHS, so what happened to all those past 70 years of taxpayer NI contributions which were solely intended for the NHS and social welfare?
It remains to be seen how successful the ongoing NHS reorganisations prove to be. It is good that, as reported in the Gazette, individual members of the various trust committees and politicians are locked in heated debate. However, it also remains to be seen if Mike Penning our local MP for 12 years can stand up to Parliament and improve Dacorum’s healthcare by promoting a fully functioning state-of-the-art hospital for the Hemel Hempstead area. All that has happened so far is the closure of Hemel Hempstead A&E in favour of an ‘Urgent Care Centre’. More recently this has been renamed to the urgent ‘treatment’ centre and had its opening hours reduced. We can hope that removal of the word ‘Care’ is not significant and that government regulator, NHS Improvement, will soon announce that a new NHS owned hospital will be built for the Dacorum population.
Hemel’s original Sir Astley Cooper Cottage Hospital
Having recently been to the opticians, was informed that should a serious urgent out-of-hours eye problem occurred one would have to travel to A&E at Stoke Mandeville hospital. The eye clinics in our local area are no longer walk-in and an appointment has now to be made.
Hemel Hempstead Hospital Complex
Hemel Hempstead Hospital Entrance (DHAG Link)
Sir Mike Penning MP outside the disused buildings of Hemel Hospital