JIM PARKER: Extra pair of hands may be welcome
I WOULD never criticise doctors, nurses or any hospital workers for that matter, especially at Torbay Hospital. I think they do a marvellous job, some times during extremely challenging circumstances. After all, how could you knock anybody who saves lives?
But my eyes were opened after experiencing first hand what life is like in Torbay's accident and emergency department.
The first time was a few months ago when a member of my family was rushed in for treatment.
It was busy. You expect that in casualty. The doctors, nurses and staff were brilliant, the patient dealt with superbly and, thankfully, discharged the following day.
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We did, however, have to spend more than six hours in A&E that night.
I just couldn't help but get the feeling that a couple pairs of extra hands would not go amiss as the doctors and nurses flitted here, there and everywhere.
I felt that even more strongly when another member of my family ended up in virtually the same casualty ward bay last week.
This time it was extremely busy. It was a midweek late night/early morning so there must have been other non-weekend reasons.
Paramedics were appearing at regular intervals through the casualty doors with patients on trollies and in wheelchairs.
At one stage they were literally queuing up waiting for their patients to be 'booked in'.
Once they were seen and the relevant information handed over to the nursing staff, some patients were left on trollies in the corridor outside the cubicles waiting for a space to open up.
One man, in particular, seemed to be left waiting for a long time in some pain.
And several of the patients at this time of the night were elderly.
It was summed up to a certain extent when I tried to find a glass of water for my family member.
The vending machines out in reception were not working. I was told to go to the nursing station and ask them.
There, I was directed to where the water jug was located and then the cups and did the necessaries myself.
It really was no big deal — this was casualty, not a hotel — but it just didn't quite stack up for some reason.
I have to emphasise once again, that there is no criticism here of the care that was offered.
My family member was treated extremely well and was taken to a bed on a ward for the night before being allowed home the following morning.
We had, however, been in casualty for more than five hours.
I am not sure if that is the norm. I also fully appreciate that there will have probably been far more urgent, emergency cases than ours.
That day the headlines in the newspapers and on the TV radio talked of other hospitals in the region struggling to cope with patient numbers as things like the winter stomach bug took its toll.
Cathy Gardner, Head of Operations for emergency services at the South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, apologised for any delays, but she didn't really need to. The national targets for making sure casualty department patients are either discharged or found a bed is four hours.
But she explained that last week was unusually busy with ambulance 'activity' well up on normal numbers. In the middle of the week the number of ambulances bringing in patients peaked at 99 a day — the norm is 75.
But Cathy said they would cope with numbers above that average, even 99.
It was just that during last week those high numbers were consistent.
She said the patients came from the 'local population' and were not linked to problems at other hospitals.
She said: "It was just the demand on services. When things are busy they are busy everywhere.
"Patients were being placed appropriately."
She said Torbay, unlike most other hospitals, can look to local community hospitals for help in situations like this.
"We will create capacity wherever it is needed. Patients always come first," she emphasised.
Nobody would ever doubt that last statement.
We all take our health service for granted.
I can't say how much I am indebted to the care teams for looking after the members of my family and making sure they were treated well and allowed home safely.
The health service in general is currently going through massive change. I am not sure if that will help ease the pressures of life in casualty.
There is talk and fear of some services being 'privatised'.
I am not sure if that will help ease the pressures of life in casualty.
As I have said, it genuinely is not my intention to criticise here.
You expect casualty departments to be busy places.
It may appear to be a silly statement, but you expect them to be places full of people in urgent need of medical attention (for the most part at least) and people who will be in pain and a little confused.
And you expect to have to wait before you are dealt with.
Don't forget, that while your loved one is waiting to be seen, doctors and nurses are probably trying to save the life of another patient elsewhere.
Casualty departments are full of heroes for whom the margin between life and death can be so minimal.
I just feel even they may welcome an extra pair of hands...