Fear and Loathing in A & E

Patrolling the wards of a big London hospital this week, as a chaplaincy worker, trying not to get up the noses of the nursing staff I settled down by an elderly man, Mr T who seemed very keen to chat. I quickly realised that though the NHS is a great and brilliant institution which we all love, it’s easy to find yourself at the sticky arse end of it, as he had.

He told me he’d been admitted to A&E as an emergency, suspected heart attack three days earlier at 7pm. He’d been there, waiting for a bed to become free until 3pm the next day. His friend had left him in casualty at 9pm. Something I would not recommend anyone doing to another human being, at least in London. While sitting there all those hours he’d been very frightened particularly by the violent and yobbish language used by other outpatients. He just wasn’t use to being in close proximity with the kind of people who now regularly fetch up at night in A & E demanding attention.

When he’d finally got up to the ward he was hungry, thirsty and confused. He’s seventy four and with this mild confusion they probably got a distorted idea about his mental faculties, as he was placed in a ward with two severely demented men. One of them, who can’t speak, just waves and smiles, and tries to get into bed with Mr T in the night. He even tries to get into the same chair with him during the day. Mr T is lucid and spoke to me quite normally although he is very anxious and tired and stressed through lack of sleep. He is also lonely.

‘I just want someone to speak to,’ he told me. ‘To have a bit of normal conversation.’

There are a few wards where male patients get together and enjoy a bit of banter and fun, and engage in a lot of chat. I have sat with them and been part of something like a group discussion, but Mr T is far removed from that consolation. I asked a nurse if he could possibly be moved to another ward. I got the usual reply to this question.

‘Impossible. All the beds are taken. We are full up.’

We are on the lean old rump of NHS care, there is no fat left for anyone, no matter how unhappy they are.

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