During the summer holidays, I slipped on some water at work and got covered in boiling soup resulting in severe burns to my arms and back.
Since the debate on healthcare in the USA has by no means died down, and the majority of my readers are likely to be American, I thought I would share yet another anecdote about being treated by a government healthcare system.
My experience was like a roller-coaster of good and bad service from the state-run, state-funded National Health Service (NHS).
- Paramedics: The ambulance arrived fast and the paramedics wasted no time in reducing my pain and getting me to a hospital. While this is the only time I’ve ridden in an ambulance, I can’t imagine a way in which this could have been done better.
- District Hospital: The paramedics took me to a district hospital, informing me that I would be transferred to a specialist national burns unit. The staff here were friendly enough, but they were by no means experienced enough to deal with my injuries. They dressed the injury (inadequately, I later learned) and discharged me with a packet of pain killers. At the time I didn’t complain, morphine and entanox makes you a little passive, but halfway through the hour long journey home it became obvious a mistake had been made. To say the pain was unimaginable would be a gross understatement – I was in no fit state to be at home.
- Paramedics (again): Consequently, we got the paramedics out again. The same paramedics turned up and gave the same excellent service. They also called out another paramedic who had some more authority. She called the district hospital and persuaded them to re-admit me and transfer me to the burns unit – she made her contempt for the bureaucratic procedures clear to the hospital; if it wasn’t for her outspokenness it seems unlikely that they would have done the transfer, and the rules say that the only way to get to the burns unit is if the district hospital transfers you. The hospital caved, and the ambulance took me there again.
- District hospital (again): After getting to the hospital we were told that we couldn’t get transferred for a few hours, because the ambulance drivers were changing shifts. I had to lie on an A&E bed for a few hours.
- Burns Unit: I finally got to the burns unit (12 hours after my injury!), and here the service was nothing short of excellent. They said that the treatment I’d received was nowhere near to being adequate, and they treated the burns (after seeing the burns, I’m unable to believe how anyone made the call to not transfer me to a burns unit, it was the most gory sight I’ve ever seen!), properly dressed the wounds and admitted me to intensive care. I was here for two weeks, and the staff were consistently brilliant. The only thing that wasn’t good was the food, but it’s hard to care less about that when you’re wrapped up in enormous layers of bandages. I did make some observations on customer service in healthcare, which I will later post, while I was there.
- Local treatment: It was decided eventually that my dressings could be done at my local surgery, instead of having to travel so frequently (the burns unit is a 2 hour drive). The local surgery did not know how to dress the wounds (they tod me they had never done it before), but they took a stab at it following the instructions in my discharge letter. They were exceptionally busy, and took over half an hour to begin the dressing after removing the old one, meaning I had to sit in a cold room, wearing very little with open wounds, for over half an hour. 24 hours later I noticed that the wounds hurt much more than usual, and there was blood on the dressings: the local surgery had done it wrong, and it took another 2 hour trip to the burns unit to correct it.
I’m going to be finally assessed for skin grafts on Tuesday (though they think I’ve just about got away with it) – if anything else significant happens, I’ll post it here.
The health system seems to be so riddled with inconsistent quality of care that it is difficult to start analysing it — make of this anecdote whatever you will.