‘Imagine you are going on a first class long haul flight right now – where would you like to go?’ asked my anaesthetist as I drifted off. 5 weeks ago I was told that I had a tumour in my right kidney and 2 weeks later I went into Wythenshawe Hospital (UHSM) to have it removed by keyhole surgery. I was very fortunate to be allowed home after 48 hours and since then I been able to reflect on the whole experience.
I don’t remember the answer to her question but it did get me thinking about the similarities. That first night trying to get comfortable and learning how to adjust the angle of the bed. The lights being dimmed: some people watching the entertainment system; others snoring; me undoing tangles of headphone wires or drip tubes; staff whispering over in the corner; being woken up – for a blood pressure test or to warn of turbulence. The same sense of loss of control.
#1 ‘Economy Class Syndrome’
After publicity about the risks of DVT airlines encourage the use of compression socks for high risk travellers. The risk post-operatively is much higher and this hospital takes no chances. A nurse not only gave me a pair but she showed me how to put them on and insisted that I wear them throughout the period of recuperation. I was also given a months supply of Clexane® injections.
Score NHS 5 / Airlines 2 (all marks out of 5)
#2 ‘Your choice of food may not be available’
Avoid the last row of the cabin or the last bed in the ward. At lunchtime my colleague in the opposite bed bagged the last cheese sandwich so I ordered the baked potato with beans. I went for a short walk and on my return found my baked potato minus beans. ‘They’ve ran out’ explained my neighbour.
I raised an eyebrow at the WHSmith newspaper trolley, laden with Galaxy bars on special offer. I’m not convinced this sends the right message in a hospital. I do however really like this idea from British Airways of being able to order pre-paid meals in World Traveller. I am not sure that anyone feels like ‘gourmet dining’ post-operatively and the prices would look a bit steep in the NHS but it might be healthier than crisps and chocolate.
Score NHS 1 / Airlines 4
#3 ‘Welcome to online check-in’
Information sharing allows sites like Expedia and Opodo to scan thousands of route options, check seat availability in real time and calculate fares in milliseconds.
The contrast with the NHS could not be more stark and the issues around information sharing in the NHS are well publicised. Patients often comment on how often they end up repeating their story at each stage of the process
To me it’s a miracle that an NHS with so much paper and under so much pressure can work as well as it does.
Score NHS 1 / Airlines 5
#4 ‘We are here primarily for your safety’
On a typical long haul flight I would expect to interact with no more 6 employees: check in staff, gate staff (often the same people), 2-3 in flight attendants.
I estimate that from the moment I called the NHS for help when my symptoms first appeared I have been in contact with around 36 different healthcare professionals. Without exception they have been courteous, kind, caring and honest. That’s what airlines used to call ‘Customer service‘.
- initial emergency
- 111 service (11 pm Good Friday) – call handler
- out of hours doctors (1am Easter Saturday) – GP
- walk-in centre (8am Easter Saturday) – GP
- A&E (3pm Easter Saturday) – consultant
- clinic – 2 nurses, phlebotomist
- cystoscopy – consultant, junior doctor, nurses
- CT scan – radiographer
- CT scan results – consultant and Macmillan nurse
- phone call – my GP
- meeting with surgeon – another consultant and Macmillan nurse
- consent- nurse
- blood tests and ECG – 2 nurses
- discussion about general health – junior doctor
- operation – nurse, anaesthetist, registrar, consultant
- recovery – consultant
- 48 hours in ward – consultant, registrars, junior doctors, nurses, phlebotomist, physiotherapists, pharmacist, catering staff
- post discharge
- visit at home – district nurse
- follow up phone call – nurse
- clinic visit – nurse
- call to make appointment – consultant’s secretary
- follow up appointment – consultant and Macmillan nurse
Score NHS 5 / Airlines 2
#7 ‘Lowest fares guaranteed’
However it has changed since 1948 the NHS is still free. Long may it remain so.
Score NHS 5 / Airlines 0
#8 ‘We wish you a safe and pleasant onward journey’
A neighbour gave me Nick Robinson’s new book ‘Election Notebook’ in which he descibes his own experiences with cancer. He says ‘there is one simple lesson I’ve learned: you can never know what lies round the corner, you can never control everything but you must never, ever give up hope.’
I am very fortunate to have had amazing support and prayers from my family, friends, colleagues and investors and such great care from my GP and the staff of Wythenshawe Hospital. Thank you all.
Total NHS 17 / Airlines 13