Tuesday, 25 June 2013

If it's not an accident or an emergency, where do you go?

Recently I have begun to feel that I might resemble a cod fish which has evolved to become smaller than its ancestors, so that it could slip through the holes in trawlers’ nets in order to avoid being made into fish fingers. Inadvertently I seem to have evolved into a life form that slips through the mesh of the NHS in North West London in 2013, albeit with less positive consequences that is the case for the abovementioned fish.

One of the several ailments that afflict my legs causes them to swell, then, if the skin breaks, fluid can seep out. About a year ago I had an outbreak but this problem which was effectively treated by the nurse at my local GP practice. For a while this entailed wrapping the leg in several layers of bandages which had to be changed about every two days since the leakage soon soaked through the dressings. Gradually the leg healed up and the leaking ceased, I was then able to treat myself at home with creams and a stocking bandage.
This self-medication worked well until about a month ago, when the leaking started up again. I tried to apply layers of more absorbent bandage myself, but my efforts weren’t very effective and the leg seemed to leak more and more. 

I rang my GP surgery but they couldn’t make an appointment for me for a week, but my bandages were soon both falling off and soaking wet, so I sought treatment elsewhere. I went to an NHS “Walk-in” Centre, about five miles from my home. The nurses there did what they could, but said that the “Walk-in” Centre did not keep a sufficient stock of bandages to treat cases such as mine and advised that I should be seeing my GP.

The temporary bandaging just about held out for four days until I was able to see the GP nurse again. The sopping bandages were removed and replaced with more extensive bandaging, but this too was wet through within a day, to the extent that one of my shoes was filling up with fluid whilst the bandaging was slipping down my legs, but the next GP appointment that I could now get was in six days’ time, so I decided that fresh bandaging was needed.

I looked at a full page advert from the NHS in free magazine posted to me by my local council. It was headlined “If You Are Unwell, Choose The Right Place to Go” (NHS Brent Clinical Commissioning Group  p.8 Brent Magazine, June 2013).  This ad detailed the various NHS services provided locally, but also emphasised the message: “Choose Well: Only Use A&E in an Emergency”.

I had already been to the GP and the Walk-in Centre, so I tried ringing up the Urgent Care Centre at a local hospital, (Central Middlesex), which was mentioned in the NHS advert. When I described my problem, I was told that the Urgent Care Centre was not the appropriate place for me and that I should go to the A&E in another hospital (Northwick Park in Harrow) as the local A&E in Central Middlesex was now “appointments only”.

This contradictory arrangement which might seem to imply that a patient should be clairvoyant enough to know of an emergency before it happened to them, placed me in a quandary. Harrow A&E is a fairly difficult journey, I could, I suppose, have phoned for an ambulance, but I did not consider my condition, no matter how unpleasant it was, to be an emergency and I did not want to waste the time of ambulance crews and A&E staff in dealing with it. So I was effectively house bound for about three days until my GP appointment came up. Luckily, I had enough food at my home to last out, otherwise I might have gone to the A&E for lack of groceries, rather than for any medical reason.

The GP treatment, when I got it was adequate and I have l also now been referred for specialist treatment, so I make no blanket criticism of the NHS, but there do, locally, at least seem to be some gaping holes in its net.
Recently I have seen and heard, media coverage that suggests that A&E’s can no longer meet the demand placed on them by many people presenting with non-urgent conditions, and it could be that such pleading might cover for pressure caused by A&E closures, when no adequate service for non-emergency cases, such as mine, seems to be in place.

I know that there a places in the world where there have never been ANY health services and I know that currently, in other parts of the world (like Greece and parts of Spain), previously adequate health services are being systematically destroyed by mad neo-liberal austerity policies. So my whinges, as a relatively affluent, educated British urbanite, are minor; but someone more disabled, and/or less articulate, and/or with less access to transport, might find things far, far worse than I did. Public adverts advising people to use services that don’t really exist are annoying at the best and potentially dangerous at worst.

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