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Opinion: Secret Thinker recounts eye-opening trip to A&E, where he witnessed misunderstandings, worrying errors and endless waits

In January last year I said: “The NHS has sadly become an unaffordable luxury we must now break up and transform beyond recognition, or it will simply wither and die before our eyes.”

But when I used the NHS in June 2023, I also said this: “The medical member of staff I encountered was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best, most professional, most approachable, most effective and most down-to-earth individual I have ever dealt with.”

Hospital care can be hit and miss, as Secret Thinker experienced. Stock image
Hospital care can be hit and miss, as Secret Thinker experienced. Stock image

A year later, following an A&E experience, I need to make an update.

Following surgery, my son suffered a bleed and I needed to take him to an A&E department at a Kent hospital.

Registering at reception went smoothly and we were directed to the waiting area where, within an hour, we were called to see a triage nurse. There were some misunderstandings due to language issues but we were informed a doctor would see us later. We were next asked to follow a member of staff and, without any explanation, bloods were taken and a cannula fitted and we went back to the waiting room. After three hours we went through to an assessment area where we only waited another 30 minutes before being seen.

The overall wait seemed excessive as the department was quiet on a Sunday evening, but I realise many other factors can be at play, so that’s fine.

However, there were issues which did concern me.

First, a drip was brought over and a bag fixed up to be connected without any explanation what was in it. When I asked the nurse she said she wasn’t sure but a doctor had suggested it. She went off to check and said she thought it was used to help blood coagulate.

“In the six hours we were there, I did not see a single person dealt with, efficiently or otherwise…”

By now the patient was thirsty but bottles at the nearby water station were all empty and I wasn’t allowed to use the tap on the basin so I returned to the reception area, where I’d spotted a water fountain, and the triage nurse told me the doctor would be with us within eight hours of our arrival time.

By the time I got back to the patient, he’d been seen by a doctor, told not to eat or drink anything (other than water), and advised he should stay in overnight to be observed. He also said he could see no evidence of the bleed.

Waiting for a bed to become available, he was then connected to a saline drip which he was told would take eight hours to run through but the head nurse came to tell him he was free to eat and drink anything he fancied. I explained what the doctor had said but she checked her notes and said this was wrong.

I understand NHS staff are picking up the pieces for failures in other areas and the majority of people they were dealing with had mental health challenges or addiction issues, but the number of errors I witnessed in just six hours was astonishing. I heard the person next to me say they were allergic to penicillin before they were connected to a drip containing exactly that.

In the six hours we were there, before my son discharged himself, I did not see a single person dealt with, efficiently or otherwise, and leave A&E.

My previous experiences of A&E have always been acceptable - this one certainly wasn’t.

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