A tale of two hospitals: East Surrey Hospital (ESH) and St George’s Hospital Tooting (StGH)
I underwent surgery at ESH in June and StGH in November 2012.
Both wards accommodated six patients, beds well separated, with the usual cupboard and bedside chair. Good modern standards.
However, StGH (Caroline Ward, Atkinson Morley Wing) had the advantage of a locker for personal valuables with the ward nurse holding the key; a great reassurance for patients; while ESH simply advised patients not to bring valuables, with the usual disclaimer of ‘we take no responsibility et cetera.’ Something for ESH to consider?
StGH patients are ‘encouraged’ to bring personal clothing, pyjamas, dressing gowns et cetera ‘to make them feel more at home’ (clinical needs permitting). They also had ‘his & her’ gowns with a choice of pyjamas for men, albeit Guantanamo Bay orange. But it is a choice. I was offered a gown to fit me, more or less – whereas at ESH it is unisex ‘little-old-lady’ size for everyone thank you very much.
StGH patients are also asked to bring a supply of drugs they habitually use. I think this cuts down a lot of otiose dispensing.
Having unrestricted on-call use of a lavatory is a great comfort. StGH offered quick access to at least four lavatories, so you could be fairly sure that one would be available were you to need it. Whereas, ESH had a single lavatory on the ward; not entirely conducive to the post surgery opening of bowels, where you need relaxed, assured, access at any time. (Are lavatories a personal hang-up? I don’t know.)
StGH Caroline Ward had its own nurses station and was on a corridor with constant traffic. This ‘open access’ had the advantage of being able to attract attention when needed; but it also made for a noisier environment. The noise of staff chatter throughout one night was hardly conducive to rest and recovery. (Unless, of course, you are trying to improve your colloquial Urdu. Or perhaps some poor demented soul might have imagined themselves in Wales.)
Bravo to StGH for providing good reception for mobile phones. This is a great frustration at ESH. But zero marks to StGH for not providing free access TV ‘angle-poise’ screens at each bedside. The screens (smaller than those at ESH) required a credit card to operate. Now I have no problem with paying for such services, but I would be most reluctant to swipe my card in such a device for security reasons. (I suspect the screens were installed by a private supplier hoping to make a profit pace the Tories’ NHS ‘reforms’ aka privatisation of the NHS through ‘outsourcing.’ At any rate, not one patient in Caroline Ward used one of these gizmos during my stay.)
Whereas at ESH, angle-poise TVs with your personal headset were a huge solace to the bedridden; allowing you to watch late night films without disturbing anyone. And you could receive calls and make free local calls. A brilliant facility.
Patients at both ESH and StGH are pretty well bereft of reading matter unless some kind visitor brings it in. I was lucky at StGH; the son-in-law of a charming Pakistani chap in the bed opposite brought me the Guardian and the New Statesman on three occasions, refusing payment. That is kindness.
There are good and bad sorts everywhere; a lot depends on one’s own demeanour. I have usually been treated with respect, although the occasional gratuitous use of my first name can raise a hackle. Staff must be careful not to patronise people.
I found the food marginally better at StGH and better organised. There are printed menus, Week 1 and Week 2, which are rotated. Someone comes around just before meal times to see what you would like. Whereas, at ESH, you are asked to tick off your choices three meals ahead. Not only may you not be feeling up to what you have ordered, but you may not be there to have it; much food is wasted with this system. Food in any restaurant rarely fulfils the promise of the menu; but the properly printed menus at StGH are a much more civilised and reassuring approach to patients.
When it comes to surgery, I had exemplary care from Neil Smith and his team at ESH who performed key-hole surgery to remove, what happily transpired to be a benign polyp, from my upper colon. Personal care at its best. And never to forget my old friend colorectal specialist nurse Jackie Tunnicliffe and her colleague Sue McDowell – a redoubtable pair.
At StGH I was impressed by consultant Carol Tan, who supervised a key-hole operation to drain a pleural effusion and do biopsies of the pleural lining. Carol and Greg the anaesthetist, a reassuring middle-aged Australian, were patient and understanding when I expressed last-moment concerns about a risk of damage to my vocal chords during the anaesthetic procedure. We agreed a compromise and surgery went ahead. (I was less impressed by the bedside manner of Kavitha Mattam who it transpired actually did the operation.)
I’ve no complaints about out-patients clinics at ESH. Dr Mike Wilde at the Chipstead Clinic has given me careful attention over the past couple of years since I presented for an X-ray after frequent bouts of bronchitis.
The most debilitating thing for me has been the litany of tests and the (usually) two-week wait for results, a roller-coaster of hope and despair over many months.
P.S. My first hospital stay was at the military hospital in Woolwich, London, in 1957 where as a young officer I was brought by ambulance in great pain. I was in a small orthopaedic ward under the care of army doctors and QARANC (Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps) nurses. Matron was a full colonel, the ward sister was a lieutenant like myself and I recall being ‘bed-bathed’ every morning by the charming corporal Honeysett. We had a ration of whisky and sherry and on my beside table I had a box of 200 Senior Service cigarettes. It was all quiet congenial. A major in the next bed to mine, who had been injured in Oman, complained about the stupidity of having an orthopaedic ward with a highly polished pinewood floor. But he was outranked by Matron.
P.P.S. My second hospital was Frankfurt General in 1980 when I broke my ankle on black ice in a parking lot while walking ever so carefully towards my rental car. The ankle snapped right through; I had emergency surgery as soon as I was admitted when they inserted metal pins which are still there. I remember waking up in the intensive care unit to be rapidly reassured by the surgeon Dr Peter that they had only put me there while they were waiting for a bed in a ward where someone spoke English. I spent the next fortnight in a two-person ward with a charming young German. When my ankle was safely in plaster Dr Peter came to demonstrate my new lightweight executive crutches, on which I limped bravely off into the sunset.
November 19, 2012