Ok. I am not into journalism in a big way, but a recent experience at Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford really cannot go without being aired. My husband injured himself in the garage on Wednesday morning, 24 November. He managed to get himself to Darent Valley Hospital A&E at about noon with a fairly serious arm injury. They triage-d him, cleaned the wound as best they could, packed it and said he needed further surgery to make sure it was clean. He rang me about 3 p.m. and told me of this. I immediately left work. Had a horror journey home on the train, eventually got a taxi to Darent Valley Hospital and arrived about 5 p.m. to find he’d been transferred to Redwood Ward, awaiting surgery, with nil by mouth. Around 8 p.m. the doctor arrived to say initially they would be performing the procedure, only to return a short while later to say they couldn’t do it (I can’t remember the excuse, I was somewhat stressed). My husband managed to get a chicken sandwich from the ward, the first thing he’d eaten since breakfast. Then nil by mouth after midnight, awaiting the operation the following day.
So Thursday 25 November arrives. My husband rings me to tell me they moved him from Redwood ward during the night and that he was now on the Day Care ward awaiting surgery. I get there about 10.00 a.m. and asked the staff when he would be going for surgery. “this morning”, “this afternoon”, “this evening”. OK, who DOES know what is happening? Eventually get told that there are the elective surgery cases to do in the morning, the “trauma” cases get dealt with after lunch. So, nothing to eat/drink since the previous midnight, he is waiting for surgery still, more than 24 hours after admission. They have pumped him full of intravenous antibiotics, that’s about all. No-one has looked at the wound. He is not the only patient in similar straits. There is a man who has recently had surgery for a hernia, and his wound has gone septic. He was admitted about the same time as my husband, had surgery the previous evening, about 1 a.m. in the morning. Still, by 3 p.m. no-one has come round to inspect the wound. There is also a lady, having been admitted by ambulance with appendicitis, who should have had surgery this afternoon who is also told it has been postponed. And this is just three people in the same bay of Day Care at Darent Valley Hospital.
So, about 6 p.m. I get back to Darent Valley Hospital, and the doctor comes to see my husband. He is dressed in his ‘street’ clothes. He is foreign, possibly Polish, not easy to tell. He says, quite abashed, that he was willing to stay to do the procedure this evening, but there are no staff to man the theatre. So, sorry mate, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Well, as you can imagine, I am not going to take this quietly, nor is my poor husband. OK, so, what guarantee is there that you will be able to do the surgery tomorrow, what if another ‘more urgent’ case arrives, then what? “Well I can’t guarantee anything” says the surgeon. So, you’re telling me that this is an OK way to treat people? “He’s been given antibiotics”. Er, no, what he needs is surgery. When does his case become urgent? When he gets blood poisoning, gangrene, perhaps? The doctor, to be fair, looked quite embarrassed. So, my husband says “I want to go private, I’ll have to pay to get this sorted out, then”. The doctor says he will go and speak to the consultant on the phone and then my husband can speak to him. In a matter of minutes he is back. Oh, there is a cancellation in the elective surgery for tomorrow, we can slot you in there on the NHS. So, this evening my husband is yet again in Darent Valley Hospital awaiting surgery. He has has another chicken sandwich and a mug of tea. Then nil by mouth from midnight. I am wondering if we can trust the people who organise surgical rotas at Darent Valley Hospital.
Update 28 November: Actually you CAN’T trust anything you get told. The promise of surgery on Friday morning did not materialise. The doctor came to see my husband and gave him that news. So when then? “This afternoon”, first on the list, apparently. We asked to see the list, and his name was on the piece of paper. The Senior Nursing Sister even came by, seemingly full of indignity that the hospital had treated my husband so poorly. Full of excuses, such as “its the C-pod list” and some explanation about instructions from Government that has to be adhered to about what sort of ailments get treated and which can be ‘shelved’. Completely outrageous. However, at least the fuss we had made had made itself felt up the chain of command. Did we want to press a complaint against the hospital? My husband felt not, he just wanted to get seen to and get out. Eventually the anesthetist came to see my husband, seemed likely it would happen. About 1.15 p.m. on Friday, over 48 hours since admission from A&E my husband walked down the corridor to the operating theatre and actually had surgery on his arm. He spent the night in the hospital after that and was summarily discharged on Saturday morning, with instructions to come back to the Pharmacy to collect more antibiotics after 1 p.m.
I was interested to see that Darent Valley Hospital website does not publish a patients charter of the sort of services they can expect. I am not surprised, given this experience of ‘in patient care’, or rather ‘don’t care’. That isn’t to say the staff on the wards aren’t trying to do their best in the circumstances, but there is something fundamentally wrong with the system. I don’t believe all the press statements about “bucket loads of money being thrown at the NHS”, and about it “being ring-fenced” in the current economic climate. All that is just so much twaddle. At the sharp end, it is absolutely scandalous.
I am told that there is an inundation of emergency cases since the NHS in its wisdom recently closed Queen Mary’s Sidcup A&E department. It doesn’t say for how long, but it started on 24 November. The car park at Darent Valley Hospital is always full. At 10.00 a.m. this morning there were queues of cars waiting to enter the car park barriers since every space was full. I was fortunate to go farther down the road to one of the outlying car parks and by chance got a place. It could have been in a different county it took so long to walk back to the hospital. When I left at 3.30 p.m. there were STILL queues of cars waiting to enter the various car parks at the hospital. Is this really any way to run a service? I think there are major questions to be asked and answered.
Since this most unpleasant experience, I have found this article in the Dartford Messenger and this article in the Dartford and Swanley Times. So obviously this problem has been known about for some months, apparently planned for and completely failed. What a complete nightmare. Those in charge of the hospital ought to be made to come and see exactly what goes on and talk to the patients. I bet they are cowering in their offices instead.