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Relationships - December 2017

I love fireworks


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com 
for her to respond in the column.



I love fireworks

I love fireworks, always have. On Guy Fawkes Night, I stood with one of my sons at the window, looking onto the Cotswold escarpment. It was crisp and clear and we had an uninterrupted view of several magnificent firework displays. It was good to watch, relatively warm while wrapped in blankets as I peered through the murky window from my fifth floor room, cold though it was with the window jammed open a little at the top and the radiator, though turned fully on, also cold because the control too was jammed.

I wasn’t much affected as, with a high temperature, I spent most of the time in bed under layers of NHS blankets. I was in my nearest hospital with double pneumonia, 24 hours after returning from a week with my grandson, staying in Florida with his seldom-seen grandfather - my former husband - and his wife.

Two days into our stay, I fell ill with a gastro virus which had hitched a ride with me in the unhealthily confined and crowded cabin of our aeroplane. The illness rapidly worsened. A bacterial infection hit my lungs. As soon I got home, I was sent straight to hospital.

All but the sturdiest among us will have had some experience of NHS hospitals. Most will, like me, be grateful for the care they receive. But some, also like me, will have seen that our once envied healthcare facilities are in bad shape, far from what they were.

I have nothing but praise for the nurses and doctors. But how can the infrastructure have been allowed to waste away so drastically?

Perhaps some who have experienced newer, smarter, hospitals might not agree that things are that bad. But I feel my emotive language is justifiable.

Our hospital is close to the centre of a small, depressed city. It serves a large rural county as well. The city has drug problems and high unemployment but lower funding than elsewhere, and no funds at all to build anew. Yet, vital parts of the building are utterly unfit for purpose. At the very least, if they cannot be demolished, these need complete refitting so that they can be less forbidding, less unpleasant and more welcoming for both patients and hospital staff.

Once in bed and connected to a battery of machines to nebulise, rehydrate, monitor and deliver medication to me, I knew I would recover. But many patients do not know that. Anxious and possibly in pain as well as feeling ill, they need and deserve better surroundings than mine in that grim tower block of wards. 

The cramped and ill-lit public entrance to the block is penned into a cold, draughty, fag-end-littered corner, forbidding, not welcoming. There is no reception for visitors. Inside is bare, murky, shabby. Nothing is reassuring.

The fittings in my side room were in an appalling state. The window was filthy, inside and out. The curtains stuck to their rail, so were hard to draw. The jammed top window led nurses to say how cold it was imagining the aforementioned radiator to be the culprit, only to find it full on, jammed and stone cold. The bedside light did not work - the only source of light that did was a painfully glaring overhead fluorescent tube.

The ward’s floor tiles were crumbling with age, some in the main corridor secured, for safety's sake, with multiple strips of hazard style duct tape. The floor of my room was washed once - on day five, but not around the edges where dirt had built up. Hygienic cleaning was cursory. One toilet remained soiled for days until my husband cleaned it. The cleaners complain they are “paid pennies” so no wonder they’re indifferent and inefficient.

The staff cannot be blamed. The nurses strive to complete their tasks under difficult circumstances, often with only half of the necessary number on duty. One came in three days running despite laryngitis because there was no-one to stand in for her. Rules are constantly broken to keep patients cared for.
On one shift, there were only two nurses for 23 patients. Agency nurses are always needed but hard to find - many discouraged by the conditions. I was told hours are lost phoning for off-duty nurses to fill gaps.

How can a once prized and envied service have declined to this?

The NHS is operating way beyond what it was designed for. In 1948, its first year, the budget for the entire UK was £437 million - about £15 billion in today's money. Since then, the NHS budget has soared but The King's Fund healthcare think-tank states: "The NHS is halfway through its most austere decade ever". However much money goes to the NHS, it cannot, and never will, be enough.

Today, our population is 10 million larger than in 1948 and there are many more complex and sophisticated, and therefore far more expensive, treatments, interventions, drugs and machines. These cost far more than either the UK or indeed any country can provide for all who need them.

Indeed, we cannot afford what we treasure. Some areas have stopped offering non-urgent procedures on the NHS. And the sad prospect is that unwelcome, undesirable charges will creep in. I was told that parts of the hospital were already being sold and that some departments were operating privately with the hospital 'buying in' their services. 

Something has to turn the Leviathan around and make it more efficient. But farming out cleaning and other services to private contractors and equipment suppliers has brought about grubby wards and disinterested, poorly paid and therefore demotivated workers, with no evident improvements in cleanliness, hygiene, efficiency or regular replacement of worn out equipment, let alone money saving. So 'Buying in' services might not be the full answer.

On a personal level, I am happy to be at home now and, thanks to immediate and free hospital care, close to being back to full health. And my 12-year-old grandson did have a wonderful time.

 

I conclude with the words of my ex, who wrote while I was in hospital:

"Whatever the minuses of your NHS experience, you’re better off than you would be here in the US.  You’d be worrying about whether your insurance will actually cover your costs or instead get out of it by saying that hospital is not in their ‘network’ or that 'you didn't get clearance from us before checking in'. Or might one of your medics not be in the network, so adding hugely to the bill. Will aspirin be billed at $75? and so on.
And Republicans want to abolish Obamacare - some even to permit hospitals to deny emergency entry to the uninsured.”



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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