AN admission to hospital is something that few people would welcome.
Day in and day out, media reports inform us of unacceptable waiting lists, overcrowding in emergency departments and medical staff being forced to take industrial action, hoping to force the government into providing conditions appropriate to the health service of a developed country such as Ireland. With the CervicalCheck scandal still revealing ever more incompetencies and cover-ups, trust in the HSE is, for many of us, at an all-time low. It is fair to say that a positive light is rarely shone on the health service in its current state.
I recently, however, had cause to be admitted to the South Infirmary Hospital, Old Blackrock Road, and found the whole experience, from start to finish, remarkable.
I was treated as a day patient in the Day Surgery Unit and was given an appointment time of 1.45pm. I arrived early and unsure of where I was going, asked a member of staff in crossing the grounds for directions. He didn’t just point me in the right direction but accompanied me all the way to the main reception. Having been directed to the required unit, I made my way to the waiting room where one other patient was waiting. I was immediately attended to by the receptionist and a minute later was called in to a ward to prepare for the procedure.
Once inside I was put at ease by a very friendly and professional nurse. She asked if I had any concerns and assured me that I would not be kept waiting long. I was offered refreshments and within seconds was brought tea and biscuits. A few minutes later the same nurse returned to check on me and asked if I wanted more of anything. I could hear the similar offers and pleasant chit chat being exchanged between the nursing staff and all patients on the ward at that time.
My appointment letter had stated that I could expect to be in the hospital up to four hours so I settled in for the wait. Soon after my admittance a second member of staff came to check on me. She adjusted the bed, without being asked, to make me more comfortable. I couldn’t help but absorb the friendly and caring atmosphere as I waited. Staff were relaxed and engaging, no one seemed under stress. When I commented on this I was told that it was an unusually quiet day and that July in general is a quieter month in the Day Surgery Unit. Although I was kept waiting no time at all, staff apologised for the delay.
When it was my turn to enter the surgical ward the pleasant and caring atmosphere continued.
The anaesthetist chatted amicably while administering a local anesthetic and the procedure was carried out quickly and without incident. I was repeatedly asked if I was okay by the surgeons and when finished was given advice on how to proceed after the surgery. I scarcely noticed the medical side of the event as the positive atmosphere and genuine concern for my well being, from all members of staff, was so pleasant.
Once back out on the ward and following a few formalities, I was free to go. Even so, I was again offered tea or coffee before I went. I left the hospital thinking that I had somehow been given a glimpse at a Utopian vision of what a well-run health service could be like. The following morning I received a courtesy phone call from the staff nurse of the ward asking how I was feeling and if everything was as it should be following the surgery.
I’m sure at this point readers will be wondering the cost of whatever private healthcare insurance policy I have that led to me receiving such attention and care. The answer is no cost; I was treated as a public patient.
The debate about the level of care offered to public rather than private patients is ongoing and relevant. Access to a properly functioning health service should be a basic human right for all members of society, not only those who can afford to pay for it.
What really struck me that day is that the staff did not take advantage of a quiet day by taking it easy. Instead, they channeled their energy into making everyone on the ward feel important and well looked after. By and large, people enter the medical profession because they are caring and enjoy helping others. What I experienced, is surely what every patient could enjoy, were our hospitals and their staff not stressed beyond all acceptable levels.
There is no easy answer as to why governments, as they come and go, have not managed to eliminate insufferable waiting lists or patients being treated on trolleys in corridors due to lack of hospital beds.
It is a sad fact that pay and working conditions in Irish hospitals will see an estimated 70% of nurses who graduate this year consider emigration.
With the HSE in its current state it is becoming ever more difficult for medical staff to do what they do best; to tend to patients with the care, kindness and respect that I received recently in the South Infirmary.