The Simon Heng Column

Recently, I spent some time in the unit that rehabilitated me eight years ago. So how has the hospital changed since then?

Certainly, it is better equipped and well-decorated, facilities are well-signposted and advice about how to seek more information or to complain is more easily available. Some of the vast sums invested in the NHS has been spent on making this place look more welcoming and patient-friendly.

The positives are the same or in some cases have improved: the nursing staff know patients by name and are aware of each one’s needs – if they aren’t sure, they ask the patient. Doctors treat their patients with respect and they expect everyone to be an expert in their own condition.

The negatives are the same too: I was expected to fit in with the hospital’s timetable, meaning hours of hanging around, waiting for the next specialist, the next procedure. In a three-day stay, I was investigated or treated for a total of three hours. I talked to someone who had been an in-patient for months the worst part of his stay was the boredom. This must be a waste of resources as well as patients’ time.

This is a very special unit: the staff turnover is low for the NHS – many of the staff who cared for me eight years ago were still working there. They have a friendly, positive attitude towards spinal injuries patients, which keeps people motivated, working towards their own recovery.

Compare this with disabled friends’ experiences in ordinary acute wards, where even the nurses seem remote and apparently too busy to meet anything but a patient’s basic needs. Where half the staff seem to be uninformed agency nurses and everyone seems stressed. Where every request is met with: “You’ll have to wait.”

Many ex-patients of this unit, like me, don’t want to be treated in an acute ward. We feel there is a lack of understanding of spinal injuries, to the point where the lack of good care could be life-threatening. But all hospitals still have one thing in common – the food is terrible.


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