Making a difference!


Verite Reily Collins & a nameless patient!

Here are some really good ideas, from a fellow patient, that came out of what must have been a horrendous experience:

Put yourself in a patient’s shoes when thinking how to improve communications – particularly if they have had an operation postponed.

I tried phoning to see if a friend was finally having her operation.  After ninety minutes being passed around one of London’s major hospitals, I was none the wiser. Nurses were ratty and cross each time I returned on the phone.  Eventually I was asked, not very nicely, “WHO are you?

If I persisted she would probably be marked down as “that woman with the troublesome friend”, so I rang off.

When I told my friend this, she agreed to write up her experiences, thoughts and suggestions.

My operation had been re-scheduled three times.  I was then put on the surgeon’s private list and after several calls to the hospital was given a potential operation date under the private listing.  A few weeks later I was contacted and told that I had been put back on the NHS list as the legal contracts between the NHS hospital and the private hospital were not to be renewed and all operations under the private/ NHS scheme were cancelled with immediate effect.  There seemed to be little understanding of the stress the whole situation was causing me; in terms of organising work and personal responsibilities. I live on my own and have a job that involves a lot of staff planning and training.  Of course there was also the added pressure that I  had to believe whatever excuse I was given for the cancellations because, as a patient, it’s pretty much impossible to cross-check the information given.

I contacted PALS for advice, the Consultant’s secretary, and the Ops manager.  The frustration was that while they all listened, no one actually took responsibility wholly to liaise with all the relevant departments and medical professionals to resolve the situation.  Finally, I spoke to the Ops manager and very calmly explained how totally unacceptable and stressful my treatment had been and all this before the actual operation! I was finally given a date and a reassurance that the hospital would not cancel (in writing, because I asked for it in writing…twice!!).  The operation did go ahead on the promised date!

Over a period of three years, I have been in and out of three hospitals for a mastectomy, chemo, reconstructive surgery and the regular visits for tests etc!  I’m not bitter or angry and understand the restrictions that NHS staff face.  However, not all the issues I have personally faced, and seen, are linked to money. I feel very strongly that patients’ experiences could be improved quite dramatically by some simple measures.  To begin with, medical/ NHS staff need to “listen” to patients, review processes and procedures (at a function level – for example, the cancer services within a particular hospital or PCT) and be increasingly aware that they are dealing with another human being!  Not only would this improve the “patient experience” it would inevitably improve the working environment for NHS staff.

I have made some progress with my ideas and having written to the Lead Macmillan Nurse at my local hospital was very pleased to meet with her to discuss these further.

Some of my suggestions:

  • Regular meetings between teams (chemo, Macmillan and Clinical nurses) to see how they can improving patient experience;
  • Invite patients to speak with group of nurses and breast clinic staff to make them aware of the patient experience;
  • Improved training of staff and improved admin processes so that all staff have the relevant patient information before they see the patient;
  • Logistics – if Reception is in the middle of the patients’ seating area, consider re-organising this so medical staff can’t be overheard discussing their colleagues;
  • Check magazines are appropriate (no articles about breast augmentation please!)
  • Information packs with comprehensive literature, including authentic and reliable websites and local support services for patients;
  • Up-to-date notices, for example, if a desk is unattended, put a notice telling patients what to do whilst waiting;
  • Provide the medical consent forms a few days before an operation so that patients can read them and ask any relevant questions;
  • On the wards, nursing staff to be aware of patient’s need.  So obvious!  For example, if a patient has had a right breast removed, ensure the nurse bell is on the right side of the bed!
  • Just a general awareness amongst medical staff that patients can hear what they are saying and that’s it’s unprofessional and rude to talk about patients or medical colleagues in open plan spaces;

May I also suggest that as a patient, we should try and stay as positive and in control as we can. We can make others behave better by being better.  If someone appears rude or distracted, it’s worth asking how their day is going.  In my experience the human condition is pretty much the same – and we all appreciate being shown a bit of concern.  If possible take a friend or relative with you for support and write any questions you have.  Most Consultants and doctors are happy to answer your concerns (some more than others, agreed!).

Whilst the onus is on the medical profession because we are in their “care” and dependent on their skills, we can all make a difference.  Here is a very relevant quote from Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

Finally, if you have been in hospital recently consider writing in and suggesting improvements…or if your experience was a thoroughly positive one, write in thanking them for it!  Ensure that you write to a named appropriate person!

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2 thoughts on “Making a difference!

  1. […] Making a difference! ( Leave a Comment […]

    • Verite Reily Collins April 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm Reply

      I am glad you ‘introduced’ yourselves, and please let me know when you post more interesting information.

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