So often our National Health Service is wonderful. When I was admitted last year, as an emergency case l couldn’t fault the excellent service and treatment I received from everyone involved. Within minutes Of arriving in A&E I was in a bed, surrounded by doctors and having blood taken as they suspected a variety of things from meningitis to a heart attack to pneumonia caused by a blood clot on my lung. It turned out to be the latter. I was well looked after in hospital and have no complaints whatever about the entire experience, but when it comes to admin in the NHS, there have been too many incidents that have caused me to shake my head in frustrated disbelief.
On one occasion I was waiting for a hospital appointment and informed them that there was just one day that I definitely could not attend as it was my son’s wedding. The appointment came for that day. When I rang to change it I was asked what time the wedding was! Did they seriously think I was going to attend on the same day as my son was getting married? I had my diary with me and was ready to agree an alternative date but this couldn’t be done; they would send another appointment by letter. Who makes these crazy rules? What on earth does it cost to type the letter and post it to everyone who needs to change an appointment.
A while ago I arrived for a routine hospital appointment. I was asked to confirm my name and date of birth. The receptionist then stated my address by way of further confirmation. Except that it was an address that I left in 1979. Why was it still even in my file? I’ve lived at five other addresses since then.
Some months after that I received a letter from the same hospital. Despite it being sent to the correct address, it contained a copy of the letter they had sent to my GP which detailed my name and an address that I left in 1995.
I have worked in Human Resources for four employers. In each of those the ratio of HR staff to employees was in the region of 1:130. Back in 2013 I took on a three month interim position in the NHS in order to implement a new procedure. The site had 800 employees and 13 staff in the HR department – a ratio of 1:61. My work was finished by before lunchtime each day. When I asked for something else to do, I was told that this wasn’t possible as it would mean taking work from someone else. When I ventured to say that the department seemed a little overstaffed (gross understatement), I’m sure that the horrified gasps of my colleagues could have been heard throughout the hospital. The NHS is often criticised for having too many layers of management. This was clearly the case here: there was a Head of HR and organisational Development, HR Manager, HR Advisor, HR Officer, HR Assistant and several HR administrators. Only in the very largest organisations is this the norm. In most companies of 800 staff there would be no more than three grades. I don’t pretend to know whether this is replicated across the NHS but it was hugely disappointing to witness such financial inefficiency due to over staffing.
What has prompted me to write about the NHS today is something that happened earlier this week to a close relative. He has to attend hospital several times a year for a drug transfusion. As per usual instructions he rang the hospital early on the day of his 12 o’clock appointment to check that the medication, which is specially ordered in, had arrived. He was informed that his appointment was at 10am, not 12 o’clock as shown on his letter, so he left home immediately to make the 50 minute journey. When he arrived they could find no trace of his appointment and denied that it had been made! His letter showed otherwise but he was informed that it must have been a mistake. However, they advised that he should have been there at 8am for a different procedure. He had been expecting an appointment for this procedure but had received no letter. The upshot is that he now has to wait again for both appointments. Unsurprisingly their systems did not allow him to book them there and then.
I am aware that my comments could provoke some strong reactions from anyone working in the oft-maligned NHS and I know that administrators don’t have the power to effect change in the way that things are done, but as admin procedures go, what an abysmally inefficient system.