We needed the NHS this weekend like we have needed it many times in the past. We woke up on Sunday morning and our five year old could not walk. She limped. Erin is a frequent user of the NHS and has in her little life had more operations than I have ever had. Her care whilst in hospital has always been good. The nurses have been caring and the doctors patch her up. Yet the story starts on the Thursday before when I tried to get a non urgent GP appointment. Erin had been complaining of hip pain and I rang to get her a GP appointment. I could have requested a same day emergency appointment but I didn’t feel we needed that emergency appointment. I just wanted to see our GP within the next day or two. Yet getting hold of one of those appointments is like gold dust and they were allocated within 7 minutes of them being released. I was told to ring back the following day. The following day I had no luck either and when I pushed I was offered an appointment three weeks away. Three weeks for a five year old child that was complaining of hip and foot pain. A child with a known medical condition.
On the news we see that the NHS is in crisis and that Cameron talks of making the NHS operational seven days a week. Better access to health care and more open access yet the staff are just not there to facilitate this. Gloucestershire has seen hubs closed and Cheltenham hospital reduced at weekends and evening. This hits children hard. After using the 111 service we were given an appointment at the out of hours which is based in the hospital. We were told Erin needed to be seen within two hours. We sat in Out of hours for two hours and we waited and waited and were eventually seen. The GP was great he examined Erin and took her history which is chequered where it comes to mobility. Erin needed Xrays. I had known this would be the outcome. We needed to ensure that there had been no trauma to her hip. What I didn’t expect was that he could not request the xrays instead we were discharged and told to walk into the A&E dept next door. We had had a wasted appointment, an appointment that was two hours late. We are frequently told not to use A&E but I found myself walking in there. Again we were triaged. Again we waited.
Duly we were seen by another doctor who sent us on our way for xrays. After Xrays were we told Erin needed blood tests to rule out a serious infection. We waited some more. Another doctor came to see us, this time the orthopedic who had seen Erin’s extensive hip file. We discussed the xrays. By 4pm when we had been in the hospital for six hours we were moved up to the children’s ward. I asked for food and drink for a five year old that had had nothing since breakfast that morning. No food or drink had been offered in A&E for a child who gets hungry.
Once on the ward we were among more caring nurses who found Erin dinner and made her comfortable with more pain relief. We waited for the blood tests to come back and to see a more senior orthopedic doctor.
Whilst the care we received was great and the staff all do an amazing job I could see that everyone was stretched. However what concerned me was that the system was broken. Far from the system saving time and money we saw more doctors than we needed to. We used an appointment in out of hours that someone else could have used. We extended that wait in out of hours where I had watched children throwing up in public and children lying across chairs in pain. We should have been able to be referred for xrays from out of hours we should not have been told to walk next door, start the process again and use up more time in A&E. We all knew Erin needed Xrays but getting her there was a minefield. The gatekeepers of the service didn’t know what system they should be following. 111 should have told me to go to A&E rather than blocking out of hours. I had spent much of the morning with another family with a five year old girl. They had walked into A&E but had been bounced to the out of hours rather than been seen in A&E after waiting, like us, for two hours for a GP that little girl ended up in Resus, that same little girl’s family were given some quite devastating news and time was of the essence. My heart broke for them. They to had been passed from pillar to post all morning.
Once Erin was diagnosed with transient hip synovitis we were allowed home with an arranged follow with Erin’s consultant. The day illustrated just how broken the NHS is and that scares me.