Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An invite ... to make an outpatient appointment!!!

I recently got back in touch with a school friend. I remember us fondly as -- amongst other memories -- wearers of tooth-braces. It was like a badge of honour back then.

I had my regular visits with the orthodontist and was told after each visit when I should next visit. Then I'd go to the nurse with her big diary and she'd flip the pages to four weeks or six months after and we'd fix an appointment, making sure that it did not clash with a band practice.

She would write the date and time on my appointment card and I went home to note that date on my own calendar, diary, whatever.

If, for whatever reason, I could not make the appointment, I rang to say, "Please could you re-schedule?" That way my slot was freed up for other people (especially emergencies) and I could rest assured that nobody's time was being wasted.

Today my husband received a letter "An Invitation to make an Outpatient Appointment in --- Department" it said.

My husband has a chronic disease and is under constant medical surveillance, having to go for numerous tests of every kind periodically to make sure his medication regime is still optimal. (For this we are grateful that our exhorbitant tax bill is giving us some (even if undesirable) 'returns'.)

But can you imagine the amount of correspondence that has crossed our desk whenever a follow-up appointment is required?

"Why don't they let you make an appointment while you're at the clinic?" I asked.

"Their computer system does not work beyond six weeks (or somefink like that)."

So if the consultant needed to see him in eight weeks (say), he gets a letter a week or two after his previous consultation dictating a date and time.

Once, the date given coincided with a holiday. He had been very ill and this was a first family holiday in some time. I rang up to notify the hospital.

We received a letter telling us that I had notified them that he could not make the appointment and that an alternative date would be given.

Another letter then arrived giving him the next date, but this was no good for him either due to work commitment. I rang and they sent another letter with another date.

I rang to say they were wasting our time and demanded we sorted the time out while I was on the phone. It was sorted.

The next day the postman brought -- yes, you guessed it -- another letter confirming that a date had been given.

How many hands does it take to change a light-bulb?

How many clerks (they are not called clerks these days) were involved in confirming that one appointment for my husband? I dread to think.

This is not the only time that it has happened.

I just saw Tony Blair (The Right Honourable) on TV telling the House of Commons that the Labour government have employed 85,000 more nurses, etc. Well, Mr Blair, yesterday a mother at son's school told me she might not have a job in a month's time, thanks to the local PCT cutting two-thirds of the community nursing staff. And they gave them this news just before Christmas.

How are they going to afford to keep two sons at an independent school? Why are their sons in an independent school, Mr Blair might wish to ask? Because the state school they were in just completely failed their boys. When the older boy joined at seven, he could not read. (He has since more than caught up.)

My husband's "Invitation to make ..." is completely unnecessary.

So much of the work of the clerical staff at NHS hospitals make not a jot of difference to patients' lives, other than making their wives and carers call on the phone to make complicated arrangements for a simple appointment.

This mother makes a clinical difference to the life for patients. But she's more expensive to employ than the person sending out those "Invitations to make ... ". What complete rubbish!

What's wrong with using a great big book to let patients book a subsequent appointment six weeks, two months, six months into the future? It has worked very well in the past before computers came into existence.

What's wrong with dealing with a real patient who would have his diary and knows his holiday dates and work schedule IN PERSON rather than have some office minion sending out "Invitations to make appointments".

Back to Organic-Ally.

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