“We live our lives 24/7 and an illness doesn’t stop for anyone.”
This was said by a patient recently at a conference I attended. The conference was a learning exchange involving patients, carers and health care professionals, looking into 7 day working across the NHS.
To me it seemed like one of the rare opportunities that I wish would happen more often, so I of course jumped at the opportunity at attend as a patient representative. Those who had the power to make 7 day working a reality were sat on my table, listening to not only my experiences, but those who had shared theirs with me the previous evening.
Back and forth all day, we listened to stories from patients and carers… some incredible stories of the lack of available specialists leading to life threatening situations. A common theme rang throughout the room… patients who need specialist care fear being admitted to hospital on a weekend or an evening. I certainly sympathised with them… nodding in agreement and sharing my recent experiences that have lead me to sharing this same fear. Any hospital should surely provide its service users with reassurance that they will be safely looked after, however it seemed to me that what is happening is that poor care, for whatever reason, is reinforcing fear in its users.
During the conference I was sitting next to an elderly gentleman called Rodney. Rodney suffered from a stroke many years ago, and thankfully on the day it happened he was saved by a specialist. This is what Rodney said to the room;
“I feel lucky that I had a stroke on a week day. Had it been any other time I would not be alive now.”
Once Rodney had recovered from his stroke he made it his mission to have a 7 day stroke service in this local area. He spoke to commissioners, health care professionals, other patients and the media. He took on the battle to ensure that people would be safe should they experience a stroke out of hours and he was successful!
Personally, when it comes to my diabetes care I feel completely looked after and safe when admitted during a week day because my diabetes team are there. Even if the person sent doesn't know me, they still have the knowledge to make a safe decision. However this year I have been admitted on weekends and evenings and I have had no end of problems. My diabetes team are aware of what I went through and how dangerous it was, and I'm happy to see that something is being done about this. I know that it's not through lack of trying by my D team, I know they are as frustrated as I am, but should it come to this? Should a patient with diabetes go into DKA or hypo due to a lack of understanding before action is taken?
If you'd like to look at this link you can read what other patients with diabetes have experienced.
Other patients at the conference spoke about the trouble they have had when diagnosed with an illness over the weekend. The diagnosis is made, however it isn’t until Monday morning that the appropriate treatment can be given, leaving patients deteriorating or worrying. I myself was told once on a Friday evening that a scan showed a shadow on my brain, but nothing could be done about it until the surgeon was in the hospital on the following Monday morning. Knowing what this could have meant left me distressed and panicked for 2 days before the surgeon could perform a biopsy. An early diagnosis is of course fantastic, but not if the means to treat the illness aren’t available.
What struck me that day was the willing from the health care professionals to do more. To go above and beyond and to admit that mistakes are made, projects fail, lessons are learnt and ideas simply must be shared. I could sense their frustrations when they heard of the patient stories, and although there are some bad apples out there, I was grateful that in that room was a consensus that 7 day care can be done.
Many concerns were shared by both patients and health care professionals regarding a 7 day service:
- Clarity is needed over the definition of a 7 day service
- What would 7 day care mean to the public and professionals
- Will there be standard expectations/minimum standard across the UK and can this be extended and developed over time
- Is it possible to have a service where standards don’t differentiate between week days and weekends
- How will the public be educated to use the service - e.g. when to use it and how to use it appropriately
- Do health care professionals have the will and desire to make this work
- Will a 7 day service be safe for patients and staff
- How can a 7 day service be implemented when an overhaul is firstly needed for traditional 5 day services
These questions and concerns have been taken on board and will be put to Sir Bruce Keogh before he writes his next report. Let’s hope that this learning exchange has been enough to make positive steps towards a safer future for you, the service users of the NHS.