Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The NHS: I just don't understand...

There really are no words to express how wrong the treatment is that many people receive at the hands of the NHS. I know that they're underfunded, incredibly busy and, for the most part, doing their very best to help more people than they can cope with. However. I am getting so sick of the way that they operate. I blame the government, not the individuals who are trying to do a difficult job. Regardless of the cause, though, it is not good enough.

Today I had an appointment at the hearing clinic. I had an MRI in December to check if there might be anything causing my minor hearing loss, and I had to go into the clinic to get my results. My appointment was at 1.20pm, but reception didn't even bother to open until 1.45. I was finally seen at 2pm, even though I was the first patient of the afternoon. The receptionist was incredibly rude, refusing to write down my GP's details because he's private, and making me stand for five minutes even though I was clearly in pain (one minute of standing is about my limit at the moment). Then when I finally got to see the doctor, after my forty-minute wait, it turned out to be a three-minute thing where they told me that my MRI results were fine and that I don't need to come back again. Sorry, but couldn't they have told me that via my GP or over the phone? Why did I have to leave the house for three hours (when it's currently very difficult for me to do that), do a fair bit of walking, get on the tube, drag myself to a central London hospital, have them keep me waiting even though there was no one in the queue ahead of me, and then get sent away again? As I said to The Girl, if I was getting this sort of treatment from a company that I was directly paying for a service, I'd have put in a serious complaint long ago.

What I find most interesting about the NHS at the moment, though, is its apparent lack of disability equality policies. The clinic today was ENT, yet they seemed to have absolutely no deaf awareness. The receptionist was calling out names (not particularly clearly) while her mouth was hidden behind a file, then getting annoyed at people who didn't respond immediately. Um, did it not occur to her that some patients at an ENT clinic could be, oh, I don't know, hearing impaired? There was no accessible equipment to help people who can't hear - even my ordinary GP surgery has a display showing the name of the patient being called, but there was nothing like that here. I also heard one member of staff being extremely rude to someone because he wasn't understanding what was being said quickly enough.

This all seemed very odd to me. Yet it's not outside my experience. As an already-disabled person (impairment: bipolar disorder) who has also developed a physical condition, I have been given what I consider to be discriminatory medical treatment. I already knew that people with mental health problems tend to experience poor medical treatment for other conditions, because doctors either don't believe them, or dangerously assume that every condition they experience must be related to their psychiatric impairment. Granted, conditions like ME/CFS and fibromyalgia are a particular problem here, because they are difficult to diagnose and it's not entirely clear what causes them. Nonetheless, I have had a diagnosis for over a year, of a condition that has been classified by the WHO as neurological. Yet I have faced serious difficulties in getting pain treatment, in persuading a doctor to refer me to specialists, even in getting prescriptions for medication that I have been taking for many years. All of this delay and disbelief has not only affected my condition directly, in that it hasn't been treated properly, but also indirectly. If I had been taken seriously and given proper care and advice from the beginning, it's quite possible that I wouldn't have pushed myself to go back to work as quickly as I did, and that I would have known how to approach this condition better. Perhaps I wouldn't have become so ill then. I'd certainly be bothering doctors a lot less by now. Joined-up thinking, anybody?

I am beginning to wonder, in short, whether someone's quality of life matters to doctors once they are already disabled. I'm sure that on a conscious level it does. But it's quite possible that doctors - without meaning to - take disabled people less seriously, or approach us with less urgency. Maybe because we're less likely to 'fight our corner', or because they think we can cope with more because we already deal with impairment, or because they just don't know quite what to do with us when conditions start to overlap and get complicated. If doctors and health professionals would only see us as individuals rather than problems, things might improve.

I wonder if any campaigns are currently working to persuade the medical profession to consider disability in the light of the social model. Hmm.

1 comment:

Lisy Babe said...

Was this the throat, nose and ear hospital on Grey's Inn Road by any chance?

That place is abismal. I've been to the ENT clinic 3 times now, and 2 of my consultancies have been a complete waste of my time. The first time was about my hearing problems when the doctor told me I was "not deaf, just imagining it" and most recently in regards to my chronic sinus problems I was told there was nothing wrong with them, despite the fact that they were so inflamed the doctor couldn't actually get his little telescope up there (and he used the smallest size).

And the doorway into the blood test room is too narrow to get a wheelchair through.

As I said to you last week, it's worth calling the DRC for advice about how you've been discriminated against by medical professionals because of your bipolar diagnosis. It's more clear cut for you as they are obviously discriminating against you on the basis of your impairment.

I suspect the reason I was so ill for so long with my stomach last year was because the doctors decided that I didn't need to be treated urgently because they believed that it didn't matter that I was off work sick for 4 months, because I'm disabled so how useful could I be even if I was there?

I would suspect a similar prejudice on the behalf of the most recent ENT doc I saw too, except he was so thick and up his own arse, I think he really believed that there's nothing wrong with my sinuses. Or at least he did when I first went in there, and once he tried to look up my nose, he was too proud to admit that he was wrong.