Saturday, May 16, 2009

Calling the Ambulance

I'm a big supporter of the National Health Service, for all its flaws - if you are ill you should be looked after, whatever your age or income, and that's what it tries to do.

However, any system can fall down if it employs an idiot to answer the phone.

When Gareth first got terrible stomach pains he rang NHS Direct which gives telephone advice as to what to do next. It should have been pretty obvious that he was in a lot of pain because of the way he said "AAAAAARGH" every three seconds or so.

"I've got - - AAAAAAAAAARGH - - terrible pain in my - - AAAAAAAAAAARGH - - stomach."

That kind of thing.

Telephone Idiot listened to Gareth's account of his symptoms and suggested he could travel to the emergency doctor.

"How can I - - - AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH - - get there? I can't move off - - AAAAAAAAARGH - - this sofa."

"Well, have you got a car? You could drive there."

"But I can't - - - AAAAAAAAAARGH - - move off this - - AAAAAAAAAAAAARGH - - sofa."

"Well, have you thought of getting the bus?"


"Well, I suppose you could call an ambulance, if you must - - "

"Yes, well - - - AAAAAAAAAAARGH -- I think that's what I'm going to do. Thank you for your advice. Goodbye."

Gareth rang 999 and described his symptoms. He was in incredible pain, centred on the lower right of his abdomen, and had been sick twice, and this pain had been going on for about twelve hours, and indigestion remedies hadn't helped at all.

They marked it "non-life-threatening" and instead of sending an ambulance, they sent a man with a car.

The man with the car looked at Gareth, and poked him a bit, and listened to his cries of agony, and suggested that he really wouldn't be able to get into a car. "You need an ambulance, mate."

Finally the ambulance came and took Gareth to hospital. His appendix had burst and when they operated they had to remove two litres of pus from his stomach (sorry if you were having your lunch when you read this). A bit longer and he'd have been dead.

One of the things that we try to teach healthcare professionals in Communication Skills is how to listen, and how to work out if something is important and/or urgent.

It's clear that we've still got a fair way to go.


Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:14 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Yes. I agree Daphne. Your role plays are obviously not working. You will have to set up a new more vigorous programme for NHS Direct telephonists which could mean some free trips to southern India. Alternatively, they could be asked to imagine that their role play partners are mattresses and they have to jump up and down on their bellies to simulate the pain of severe appendicitis.

12:15 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

Same thing happens all the time here with our 911 system. Horror stories all.

I'm so glad Gareth got to the hospital in time (no thanks to the obstructionist helpers).

I remember in the giant corporation I used to work for that it seemed to be the job of the Suggestion Department to reject as many suggestions as possible, not to implement any, thus saving the gian corporation loads and loads of its money.

Sounds like the same thing with the 999 folk.

2:03 pm  
Blogger Kim said...

If I was Gareth I would be putting in a complaint
Unfortunately I'm not at all surprised at all, they seem to be getting worse

2:31 pm  
Blogger Silverback said...

In my experience, I think it's when we are in need of NHS Direct, that it's best to bypass it altogether - like in a game of medical monopoly and go straight to A&E.

The idea of NHS Direct may be a good one but I cannot think a diagnosis over the phone, even by a doctor, would put my mind at rest for long.

At least the one time I did use it, I was advised to take my heart attack to A&E.

Result !

3:39 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home