Customer Service and Government don’t go hand and hand

Ian Birrell, a UK writer, has a very interesting discussion on his experiences with the British Health System:

It was a simple thing. Another blood test, some more investigations into whatever flawed gene or missing protein might be the cause of my daughter’s troubled life, with her terrible seizures, her blindness, her inability to walk or talk or eat unaided. Over the past 15 years, there have been many such attempts to identify her condition.

  One year later, we asked the doctor, a top geneticist at one of the world’s most famous hospitals, what had happened to the results. His office told us a rambling story about financial restrictions and the need to send such tests to a laboratory in Germany. They said there was little he could do but promised to pursue our case.

 It was a bare-faced lie. The precious vial of blood had been dumped in storage and forgotten. The following day it was despatched to a laboratory in Wales and 40 days later the specialists came up trumps. They identified her condition, an obscure genetic mutation called CDKL5.

 But the most shocking thing was not the lying. Nor even the incompetence. It was our total lack of surprise at the turn of events, since after 15 years suffering from the failings of the National Health Service we are prepared for almost any ineptitude.

The stories go on and on

Or take the request for a bigger size of nappies, urgently needed because of our daughter’s sudden weight spurt. A simple thing to sort, you might think. Not in the parallel universe of the NHS. It has taken four weeks, three phone calls, two home visits from community nurses to assess our needs and fill in the requisite forms – and still looks like being one more week before there is any hope of delivery. It may seem comical, but the result is a distressed child and endless extra laundry.

 The warning signs of what lay ahead came on our first visit to Great Ormond Street, when there was a young couple who had travelled down from the north-east of England in front of us, their tiny sick baby almost lost in its blankets. “Didn’t anyone tell you – your appointment’s been cancelled?” the receptionist told them breezily. They looked at each other despairingly.

 Such insensitivity is all too typical. When my daughter was seven she underwent a major review at a specialised unit in Surrey, spending three days and nights with sensors connected to brain-scanning devices glued to her head, under constant video surveillance while my exhausted wife comforted her and stopped her ripping off the electronic pads. A huge strain, but worth it given the hope of a breakthrough. When we went to get the results a few weeks later, there was the usual wait. After eventually summoning us, the neurologist asked why we were there. Then she opened our daughter’s notes and asked what was wrong with her. Then she couldn’t find the results. We stormed out, me in fury, my wife in tears.

 There are countless other examples. The celebrated neurologist who measured our heads before blithely asserting that our daughter – suffering up to 30 fits a day – would just have a slightly lower IQ than the average person. The GP who gave her an MMR injection against our wishes, despite warnings it might prove fatal. The nurse who, having been told our daughter was blind, asked if she would like to watch a video. And that is to say nothing of the endless minor irritations: the over-crowded waiting rooms, the blasé receptionists, the unanswered emails, the blinkered attitudes to people with disabilities.

 Once, several years ago, I went to an office that treated me fairly poorly.  They misplaced my information, showed little interest in clearing up the error, and took a couple hours of my time in running me from receptionist to receptionist to attempt to fix the problem. 

Know what this office had, that the British offices described above do not?  Competitors.  I went somewhere else.

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