My mum’s emergency acute admission to a local busy NHS teaching hospital here in North London was in many ways ‘the best of times and the worst of times’.
There was a lot to be cheerful about. Many of the registered state nurses and health care assistants were teaching each other in front of my eyes about dementia care, in a way I had not expected. You see, my mother has been recently diagnosed with mixed Alzheimer’s and vascular dementias, and, as her only son who lives with her, we have both found the actual experience rather tough going at many times.
Nobody gives you a manual on how ‘to care’. You always feel you are not doing a good enough job, even if you are actually working at full throttle. You don’t often perceive of yourself as a carer, essentially doing a full time job, as you fell insidiously into the role.
I am on the GMC medical register, with a license to practise, so it was hurtful to see a Consultant essentially examining my mother in the Acute Treatment Area treating her like a slab of meat. My mother was clearly uncomfortable lying flat on the trolley, and, when I asked why the Doctor had not introduced herself, she said her name and that she was a Consultant.
I also found it hurtful that many healthcare professionals seem to judge me personally on my ataxic gait, dressed casually, jumping to conclusions over my perceivied lack of intelligence. One health care assistant aggressively accused of me being ‘drunk’, when in fact I have not had an alcoholic drink for over ten years being in recovery.
When my mum was on the acute medical assessment, it was the pits. There was a constant stream of different people, never introducing themselves (despite the #hellomynameis campaign), mum being taken to investigations without any warning, mum being expected to give information when all she could reply was, ‘ask my son’.
When I dared to explain I was entitled to visit my mother outside traditional visiting hours, another nurse pointed to a poster on the wall describing ‘John’s Campaign’. There’s no doubt for me that the campaign has been a roaring success with the ostensible backing of the great and the good, including the media, but it was disappointing to see a few nurses pointing at posters to demonstrate to me their actual understanding of the need for the campaign.
The dementia-friendy ward where my mum was transferred to was brilliant. The signage was excellent, though I did notice that the ‘dementia friendly clock’ was showing the wrong day one day which even I found disorientating. One HCA taught a nurse to give a massage rather than bleep the oncall for an anxiolytic.
And indeed the ward were very prompt at getting my mum sitting upright in her chair, with an inflating cushion, instead of lying all day in bed. The senior nurses had a very good understanding too of the spirit of #endpjparalysis, which I was very happy to see, and even provided a clear discussion of the potential problems in the campaign’s implementation.
But for all the incredible work of the staff on that hospital, system failures continue to undermine the patient and carer experience. I felt the social worker was the most impressive professional I have personally met in my lifetime, and indeed Wayne from transport was an incredibly nice guy.
We did end up waiting for transport for five hours and in the end mum and I left in fact at 11.30 pm after my mum had become quite agitated. But this is nothing to do with the hospital, but all to do with wider politics nationally.