Our health services

I’ve deliberately not capitalised the words on this morning’s diary entry, because I mean to be a bit more generic than a capitalised ‘Health Services’ might indicate.

Like many of us of a slightly advanced age, lately I’m experiencing rather more of the inside of hospitals than I have throughout my entire previous life. Indeed, I’ve been inside the RVI and the Freeman (not incidental to this piece, ranked recently by Newsweek magazine as the top 2nd and 4th best hospitals in the UK!) rather more over the past months than I’d like to have been. But it’s a great relief, somehow, to know that we’re that close to the very best possible care in the land.

Similarly, the efficiency of mobilisation of the Great North Air Ambulance to our area in times when the greatest possible speed is of the essence to save life, is salutary, and we all love to contribute charitable pounds to that cause. Just as, the recent Allendale Challenge helps to fund the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Service, a kind of health service that’s near to our deeply rural hearts.

Against that positive perspective, there are a few niggles as we wait patiently for health care in our neighbourhood. The waiting times for an appointment at the Allendale Health Centre seem to be getting longer, on the order of weeks ahead, although telephone appointments are marginally quicker. Probably we can blame ourselves for living longer, so that patient numbers are increasing . . . and clearly, funding isn’t getting any better, granted. Morale is low all over the NHS. Staff recruitment and retention is a terrible, parallel problem generally unappreciated by the public — who would want to work in the circumstances offered by the NHS these days? For whatever reasons, then, you’ll find it hard to make an appointment to be seen, within the next few days of your urgent condition (or are we only part of the ‘worried well’ as opposed to the really ill?). If the latter, then best maybe to hie ourselves off to the nearest A&E, so we can join the huge press there.

We all know about our ‘local’ Accident & Emergency department, over at Cramlington, that is to say, the Northumberland Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, to give it its full title, and what a nightmare of a trek it is to get there, as we anxiously, if not wistfully drive (or wait for the blue lights to get out to us) our personal ’emergency’ past Hexham Hospital, and head off to Cramlington on the A1 rather than taking the western bypass straight to the RVI (at least 10 minutes closer to us!). I’m not quite sure what the logistics are between Cramlington and North Tyneside hospitals, though they seem to share a certain amount of care between them. But Hexham General Hospital is also in the loop under ‘Urgent Care’ — just not for emergency treatment anymore.

  • “The [Urgent Care] unit treats conditions including minor head, ear or eye problems, broken nose or nose bleed, sprains, strains, cuts and bites, children’s minor injuries and ailments, minor fractures or broken bones, minor skin abscesses and infections and wound infections. It is open between 8am and 10pm. Between 10pm and 8am people should contact NHS 111 where trained advisors will refer them to the most appropriate service. The only exception to this is if they are seriously ill, in which case dial 999.”

The National Health Service is always in the news, one way or another, when it can get an edge in between the Brexit fiascos. It may very well be nearly broken, and sometimes it does feel like it is already, hereabouts, when you’re quite, but maybe not ‘very’ ill. So many good staff are leaving their posts in despair, ranging from consultants through junior doctors to nurses and ancillary staff. Did you hear the one about senior NHS nurses being offered jobs to work as PIP (Universal Credit) assessors of (dis)ability? Sadly, it’s not a joke, but hey, thanks for the laughs, Ian Duncan Smith, architect of the worst-thought-through welfare system in modern times. And we wonder why retention rates in the NHS are plummeting down through the basement? But, like good folks, we struggle on, and are always grateful to the remaining, long-suffering staff who work under increasingly challenging conditions and expectations.

Our tempers might tend to erupt a bit more readily when simple prescription requests are stymied, over and over again, by a new system cutting its teeth between the local Health Centre, the Dispensary at the Haydon Bridge facility, the Central Resource that now ‘coordinates’ medicine supplies regionally, and our local chemist doing their very best to provide them. Every time I go into the chemist, these days, if it’s not my prescription that’s missing in the system, it’s the person’s ahead of me in the queue, or the one coming in just behind. It’s that often! We shake our heads, agree that we’ll chase the scrip up, and head on back to the Health Centre, or make the five mile trek back home and wait for another day or two, another call to the unresponsive ‘Dispensing Line’ number, before trying again. I don’t know whether to blame the ‘reforms’ of the previous but two Health Secretaries Andrew Lansley, which sent the NHS into uproar and near melt-down as Clinical Commissioning Groups competed against each other to offer and to find the cheapest services, or teething pains of the new ‘collaborative’ approach being rolled out as the NHS Long-Term Plan, which is maybe putting things back together again, but whatever is creating the challenge, it ain’t working at the moment for local patients. So that’s a significant niggle, and a point of record for the diary.

But among all the different arms of the health service available in this rural idyll, good, bad or indifferent as various branches might be at any one time, we really know, deep in our hearts, that we do love the NHS, care passionately for its survival, and would do anything we can to ensure that it continues to work for everyone at the point of need. Moreover, we love the ancillary health services that we support fulsomely as well. That’s civilisation, as we know it Jim, and long may it last. But how to solve the recruitment/retention and overall funding problems, which are like an iceberg waiting for the Titanic to cruise into range, will be a task of heroic proportions for the 2020s and beyond. My advice is to stay as healthy as possible, for as long as possible!

3 Comments

  1. We are blessed for health services up here but the sight of blue flashing lights up the valley which we can see from the house is always ominous.

  2. Well, I was blessed yesterday to pick up two pain relief medications that I’d asked the Dispensing Line for only the day before, so maybe things are settling down on the prescribing front! Hope so, anyway.

  3. A recent post by Anjelica Falterfoot helps to clarify the situation (7th May) at the Health Centre:
    There was a post [in Allendale area notices] a week or so ago re availability of appointments at the surgery which I raised through Patient Forum. I received this from the practice manager Joanne Appleby that she asked me to circulate:

    “We continue to closely monitor our appointment availability at the practice to ensure we offer the best service for patients. We have tried to mitigate the impact of current staff shortages as much as possible by utilising locum GPs as well as current GPs doing extra sessions. We are also working on other methods to improve access. We are currently awaiting two new GPs to commence at the practice therefore access should improve in the very near future. You can help us by letting our receptionists know the reason for your call in order to ensure you are booked in with the correct healthcare professional as well as ensuring you cancel any unwanted appointments. Please be assured if you need to speak to a GP urgently you will be able to do so on the same day.

    Kind regards
    Haydon Bridge & Allendale Medical Practice”

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