Oh, the system!

I have recently had the misfortune (or should I say fortune) to visit two of our hospitals in Auckland. One, a large public hospital, and the other much smaller. While I cannot fault the medical care the people have received, there is one issue that seriously needs attention – that is HOW WE TREAT PEOPLE.

I have absolutely no doubt that the need for security for the protection of those in the hospital is a necessity, even though I feel it is a sad indictment on our society that it is needed at all. However, surely there has to be a system whereby people can be let into the wards! What am I talking about? Well I arrived to pick up my son, who was ready for discharge after surgery. Sure, it was not in visiting times but I was not aware of any change to taking people home having to be in visiting hours, if indeed there is. The system is, you ring a bell at the door entrance. Sounds really practical to me except for one thing -- no-one answered it! I was left standing at the door and after 4 rings no-one spoke on the intercom to ask my business etc. I ended up getting in when one of the stores people left the ward! Is that a secure ward? I don’t think so. When I asked the Ward Clerk "Doesn’t anyone answer the bell?" I was informed “We are too busy”. Too busy to look after the customer?

So here is the question.

Where do people fit in hospitals between the tasks? Now, I know, being a nurse, how busy it can get in a hospital, but if the hospital is for people who are sick and needing attention, surely the visitors can still be treated with respect and dignity? The simple task of answering the bell and talking to me would have made all the difference to me. I would have been more relaxed when I walked in, and subsequently the Ward Clerk would not have had to justify her time, which I wasn’t interested in anyway. All I wanted was to get in to collect my son and take him home. A tall ask? I don’t think so.

Come on Hospital, get your frontline people to be more considerate to families and treat them with respect. I am pleased to say, the RN attending my son was absolutely excellent. She apologized for the incident and I felt valued as a person.

My other gripe on how we treat people is in an Assessment & Rehabilitation Ward. While the investigation and medical treatment has been excellent, I am sorry the communication skills of the nurses leave a lot to be desired. Not once while I was there has my mother been given her medication with a cheery, “Hello, here are your pills!” They are put on her bedside table. My mother, who has poor vision, has had to ask, “Is that my pills?”

Another lady in the ward was told to go to bed at 6pm! Fortunately, she is very outspoken and said, “No, I am watching the news.” Yet, that didn’t stop the nurse from saying, a bit later, “I thought I told you to go to bed?” – and this was still before 7pm! I understood rehabilitation was designed to get people ready to go home! Would they go to bed at 6pm at home? I certainly hope not!

I also watched a podiatrist walk in to a lady, didn’t speak to her, just lifted her bed clothes and then said she was going to do her feet. This lady had been in rehab all day and was tired. She had no energy to fight back. Unfortunately, many old people don’t say anything…. many of them just take what is given out to them. It is compounded when they are unwell.

A radiographer who was called in to review my mother’s x-rays walked in, didn’t say a word to her, and started prodding her body. It wasn’t his body, it was my mothers. He could at least have spoken to her and treated her like a human being, a person with a voice and feeling. Fortunately, my mother sent him off with a flea in his ear about not talking to her.

And a story of an incident in another hospital from a friend who had major surgery for a brain tumour. At 3 pm, change of shift time, he had the audacity to ask to have the head of his bed lowered. He was told by the nurse, “I am off duty now!” before he walked away.

Incidents like this make me ashamed to say I am a nurse. It leaves me wondering what is happening to the profession that is expected to care for and about people. Where has empathy, respect and consideration gone? Is it the training itself, or are the people who go into nursing lacking these skills? At times like this, I am sorry to say I am a nurse – a health professional.

Now, I know there are people out there who have had some really good experiences, and I have been the recipient of them, too. I also know that not all health professionals are like those I have mentioned. It is just sad that a subject like this has to be brought up at all. Is it a training issue? Surely empathy, respect, caring and consideration are common values shared by us all, and are at the root of the nursing/health profession. We all want to be valued in society -- or is this just me? Somehow, I don’t think so!



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