Ok. I have an NHS waiting list for you. Oh. Not that type. That’s a completely different blog. I haven’t written it yet. Too busy harassing my consultant’s secretary to find out when I’ll get the treatment I need.
No, I’m referring to that other type of waiting, which is just as prevalent in the NHS but doesn’t get talked about half as much. The one in outpatients where we sit for hours on uncomfortable plastic chairs, waiting for our name to be called, staring at posters reminding us of all the ailments we may yet succumb to.
It seems to be accepted behaviour within the NHS that patients will have to wait for anything from 45 minutes to 3 hours at outpatient clinics. A consultant at once said to me, “You know how most people bring a book to clinics? At this clinic we suggest you bring a tent!” Ho ho ho.
If a clinic has an average waiting time of over 90 mins, (which mine does), surely there is something wrong with the way it’s set up. And yet no-one within the NHS seems to take responsibility for it. Us patients don’t complain of course; we’re too desperate to see our doctors. And most of us accept that in our stretched-to-bursting NHS, there are too many patients, waiting to see too few medics, getting squeezed into clinics that are full already.
What to do then? The obvious answer is just not to put as many patients in the clinics. But I want everyone who needs to see their doctor to get an appointment. And I’ve been squeezed myself into too many clinics that are already full to complain about that. But I do have an NHS waiting list, designed if not to solve the problem, perhaps to make the process of being ill, a little less painful.
- Information is everything. If I know my clinic is overrunning by two hours, and the reason why e.g. my consultant has had to attend an emergency, then I can decide to come later, nip to the supermarket on the way in etc. My mobile phone number is checked by the receptionist every time I go to clinic. Why then does no-one ever phone me?
- At the very least tell me when I get there. Take a tip from the train companies who have now mostly learnt this lesson. At the moment the only way I can work out how long I’ve got to wait is by eyeing up the pile of medical notes and the people around me. Massive pile of files and 20 people scrunched up on the flip-down chairs with their legs being tripped over in the corridor equals a long time to wait. Small pile and just a couple of people not looking too fed up, equals I might be seen within the hour. A more scientific means would better so I can choose to go and get a coffee or at least text my lunch meeting to tell them I’m going to be late.
- Barring emergencies, insist every clinic, yes every clinic, starts on time. It’s a tad frustrating to fight through rush hour traffic to get in for 0830, only to see your consultant arrive at 0915 and start making coffee for every member of staff there. First patient is seen at 0930, an hour after they were told to arrive. I love the fact my consultant is the human type who would make coffee for everyone, but frankly his brain is so huge it should be used for curing patients rather than checking who wants milk. Get someone else to make the coffee.
- Treat us as human beings and make it as comfortable as possible for us to wait. I’m not suggesting sofas and smart TVs but an apology, updates on our place in the queue and some comfortable chairs for the elderly and infirm wouldn’t go amiss.
- So we wait 90 minutes to see the consultant, and then another 30 to get our blood taken. Guess what? We’ve gone over two hours in the car park. So not only have we spent all morning sat on plastic chairs with no one telling us how long we’ll be there, but the hospital trust is actually going to charge us an extra couple of quid in parking for the privilege. There’s an easy solution to stop us muttering as we head to our cars. Put in the sort of system that shopping centres have where you can get your car park charge reduced by getting it stamped by reception. Job done.
A final thought. If we’re not careful, we patients can head down into a spiral of self-pity. The ‘why me’ thoughts. Most of the time we try to forget our illnesses, make them fit around our lives rather than fitting our lives around our illness. But an outpatient appointment is a stark reminder that all is not well and a long wait can lead to thoughts we’d rather not contemplate. Keeping us cheerful as we squirm on the plastic seats might just help.