I’m no expert on health care or the government and their policies but I’ve seen a lot of bad press regarding the NHS lately and as a mother of 4 children I wanted to highlight some good and bad points.
Durning November/December of last year (2016) my youngest son spent a considerable amount of time quite poorly. He has what one doctor called (although I’m not sure if it is an official medical term) “sensitive lungs”.
He’s only 19 months old and suffers terribly with chest infections. A simple cold and can soon turn into a chest infection that can get very serious, very quickly.
During these months he ended up in A&E three times. But there was only one time I thought he actually needed to be there. That was the last time. But even this probably could have been prevented. Let me explain.
When he first became unwell, I took him to our GP who diagnosed a viral infection. A couple of days later, with obvious breathing problems (wheezing etc) we went back to the GP and he was then diagnosed with croup. As a mother I knewsomething wasn’t quite right. We were prescribed antibiotics but they weren’t helping.
My baby boy had a chest infection. And (in my opinion) an obvious one. He had previously been on antibiotics and steroids when he was less than 6 months old for a similar infection and prescribed inhalers. The warning signs should have been spotted by the GP. Not once but twice.
Unfortunately, my son became very poorly during one Sunday evening and we could not wait until Monday for the GP to open. We called 111 in a hope we might get an out of hours GP. No such luck. So we then thought we’d be sent to our local primary care/minor injuries to see a doctor there, no. After going through the not very clear questions, the 111 operator was asking, she sent an ambulance and we were to travel to a hospital 30 minutes away.
When we arrived in A&E with several people on trolleys in the corridor, the staff were clearly pushed to their limit and then some. But everyone was being attended to. I knew I was in for a long night though.
To cut a long story short, we waited for over 8 hours to be seen by a doctor. 8 hours is a very long time for a baby who is having trouble breathing to wait. However, the doctor wasn’t helpful at all. At first he told us he didn’t think there was anything wrong with his chest and was more concerned with his lack of fluid intake. Of course we explained he wasn’t drinking his milk because he couldn’t breathe, drinking milk was restricting his flow of air hence why he held his breath and refused to drink. I asked for a nebuliser but this was refused. In the end I felt like we weren’t going to get anywhere here and so I said I’d take him back to our GP the next day. At this point a consultant agreed to see us and we were prescribed antibiotics for the night. The next day, we saw a third doctor at our GP practice and our baby was prescribed steroids, different antibiotics and two inhalers. Finally we got somewhere.
However, just a week later we found ourselves in the same position. Although the antibiotics had worked for roughly 3-4 days, he soon became unwell again. Very, very unwell. We were again prescribed antibiotics and sent away. But this time I wasn’t sure antibiotics were enough. I was right.
8 days later he got incredibly poorly. A raging fever, vomiting, coughing up white/clear liquid. He was very difficult to wake and had slept for two days straight. Hardly waking, even for a cuddle. We were incredibly concerned. Again we called our GP and got an appointment. The doctor was incredibly helpful and also very concerned about our little boy. I suggested we go to primary care and get a chest X-ray – I wanted him throughly checked. Although she agreed he needed an X-ray we weren’t going to the local hospital, again we were being sent 30 minutes away. In the ambulance he was put on a nebuliser, his breathing slowed and his fever was still raging. The doctor in the GP practice thought he had pneumonia. All I knew at the time was that my baby was very sick.
This time we were wizzed through A&E and taken to a children’s ward within an hour. They monitored our baby very closely and were most concerned about his drop in oxygen levels when he fell asleep. After a couple of hours he was put on oxygen. The word pneumonia was thrown around a lot by the nurses but there was a delay in getting a doctor in to see him.
He was then given some new antibiotics, something he hadn’t had before and within an hour or so he had perked up and his fever vanished. He even ate toast and played with some toys.
After roughly 8-9 hours, the doctors were happy the antibiotics were working and his lungs had already started to clear. He bought up a significant amount of fluid which they believed was causing his poor breathing. He’s oxygen levels were near enough normal and his breathing steadied. Finally, it seemed he’d gotten the correct treatment he needed.
But something tells me this could have all been prevented much sooner…
1. The first doctor, on the first visit at the GP surgery should have noted that he had previously been on antibiotics, inhalers and steroids before the age of 6 months. They should have noticed he had a history of chest problems.
2. On the second visit we were misdiagnosed and given antibiotics for something he didn’t have.
3. Instead of being sent to a hospital 30 minutes away, we should have just been sent to primary care 10 minutes away. He needed antibiotics, not an 8 hour wait in A&E.
I honestly believe if the doctors would have taken notice to the fact my son had a previous history with this sort of thing on our first visit and prescribed the correct antibiotics, my boy wouldn’t have developed pneumonia and got as poorly as he did. And even with it being missed the second time, primary care would have been a more obvious place to have gone. We had to use an ambulance service twice, take up beds and waste the precious time of nurses/doctors to be given something we could have got in primary care, where we could have also drove to ourselves.
Now, I’m not complaining about our NHS as a whole, I mean it’s a god send but certain elements need to change. For example, the 111 service. I know it’s supposed to offer advice and give you the correct care but I don’t think it gives the most sensible care. The questioning for one thing needs review. The questions that are asked are mainly to rule out meningitis, however meningitis can have similar symptoms to lots of other illnesses in children. For example; when my toddler had been suffering stomach flu for three weeks I described similar meningitis symptoms and he was sent to hospital with meningitis being the concern. Also the same with our baby, the symptoms (high fever, cold hands and feet, difficult to wake, doesn’t like bright light etc) were almost the same. Just last week I called 111 because we suspected Edward may have broken his toe (don’t ask!) we just called for advice but again the questioning revolved around meningitis. This is very confusing for everybody. And they seem to dispatch ambulances when they aren’t sure what else to do.
It’s also a shambles that we have to call 111 to try to get seen at primary care. We used to be able to call up and get an appointment direct but now we have to go through 111 who, like I’ve explained, more often than not, send you to A&E.
How much more convienient would it have been for myself and my baby to have called up primary care, got an appointment, been seen by a doctor within an hour or so and sent on our way with the medication he needed. There would have been no need to have wasted so much of the NHS if it would have still been this simple.
As a mother this concerns me greatly, what if one day my baby has to wait too long? What if doctors and GP surgeries really are so busy that they are misdiagnosing patients? What if A&E becomes so full we have to travel even further away? What if one day, all of those hard working nurses simply can not cope?
We are very lucky to have such a wonderful and free health care service but it’s reached breaking point. I very often hold back from calling my GP and try to “wait it out” as much as possible if I became ill. I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting their time. Or I worry about being sent to an overstretched A&E. This shouldn’t be happening but it is.
As a mother I’m scared shitless for what the future of the NHS holds. I’m scared for us, our children, our own parents, the nurses, doctors, everyone.
I just hope I or my children are never put in a position where waiting too long results in devastating consequences.