Tag Archives: Hertfordshire

The British NHS – pain is still pain & death is death despite good intentions

My personal experience of the blind bureaucracy of Britain’s National Health Service – which I blogged about yesterday – continued after yesterday’s blog.

I blogged about how I encountered well-meaning bumbling when I had to have my eyes checked at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital in Hertfordshire.

My friend's painful horizontal wisdom tooth (left)

My friend’s painful horizontal wisdom tooth is seen on the left

Later yesterday, though, a friend of mine encountered continuing blind bumbling at the Dental department of Guy’s Hospital in London.

She has had painful problems with a wisdom tooth for, I guess a couple of years. A couple of weeks ago, she was told by a very amiable doctor at Guy’s that the tooth could be taken out but, as it was close to a nerve, they would first have to take a cone beam mandible CT scan to see exactly what any potential problems might be.

Good.

It might take six weeks to arrange the scan.

Well, OK.

So it was a surprise when my friend got home yesterday night to find a letter from Guy’s Hospital telling her the appointment to have the scan was arranged for yesterday morning.

She had been away from home for a couple of days.

The letter from Guy's Hospital - bad timing

The letter from Guy’s Hospital – bad timing

The letter for a scan at 10.00am on Friday 15th February, dated Thursday 7th February, had been sent second class on Monday 11th February. In theory, this should have arrived on Wednesday 13th February. If you trust the Post Office.

My friend was at home on the Tuesday, away Wednesday/Thursday and returned at 2300 on Friday night. She missed the scan appointment at 1000 that day. The letter, we think, may actually have arrived on Thursday, one day before the appointment.

In the minds of the no doubt amiable and well-meaning people creating the letter on 7th February for an appointment on 15th February, that was enough notice. But then the letter was not posted until 11th February. It was sent second class so – even if the postal system worked effectively – it would not arrive until 13th February and there was no thought of someone being away from home on two consecutive days.

So well-meaning people bumbled into incompetence.

At the bottom of the letter, it says: “If you are unable to attend your appointment please contact the Department giving 48 hours notice… If you do not attend an agreed booked appointment your form will be returned to the referring Doctor and you will need to contact your Doctor for a new referral.”

So, even if my friend had received the letter on Wednesday 13th (with the mail being delivered late-morning) she could not have re-arranged the appointment with 48 hours notice.

And now, because she did not know about the appointment, she will have to go back to her GP, get another referral, get another appointment to see a doctor at Guy’s, get that doctor to make another appointment for another scan, wait for the system to arrange another scan and then hope she receives a letter in time to know she actually has a scan appointment.

400 - 1,200 patients killed at Stafford Hospital

Stafford Hospital – where 400 – 1,200 patients were  killed

In some parts of the NHS, of course, patients die because of lack of care.

A couple of days ago Lord MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was calling for police to investigate the “needless deaths” of between 400 and 1,200 patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital between 2005 and 2009.

Five days ago, NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh announced that nine English hospital trusts were to be investigated because of abnormally-high death rates:

– North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust

– United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

– George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust

– Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

– Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

– The Dudley Group NHS FT

– Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS FT

– Medway NHS FT

– Burton Hospitals NHS FT

My experience in Hertfordshire and my friend’s experience in London are of course – in comparison – wildly trivial. But they are a sign that, even when well-meaning people try their best, the NHS (perhaps like all large bureaucracies) is a mess.

In the case of the NHS, though, it is not just inconvenience which is caused but, in my friend’s case, continuing pain and, in many other people’s cases, death.

From tiny, slightly deformed acorns do vastly warped oak trees grow.

My friend phoned the number on the letter this morning and got no answer.

“It rings and rings for ages, then cuts off,” she told me.

So she then phoned the main telephone number at Guy’s Hospital.

“You get a voice recognition computer which asks for the department you want,” she told me, “If you ignore it, it gives you operator. The operator told me the Appointments Department is only open weekdays.”

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This man with movie dreams already has a free yacht and a free Jumbo Jet

Borehamwood yesterday: Jason Cook, a man with a dream

I woke up in the early hours of this morning wanting to go to the toilet and realised I had been dreaming about the plots of Alfred Hitchcock movies. There was the one where he broke the convention that all flashbacks by central characters should be true. And there was the famous one where, by killing off the central character (and the only star name in the movie) the whole plot of the first third or more of the film became irrelevant – the ultimate MacGuffin.

I guess I was dreaming of films because yesterday, in Borehamwood’s main street, near his offices at Elstree Film Studios, I met the indefatigable would-be feature film producer Jason Cook, who has a slate of nine films – all scripted and budgeted, including a £3 million animation film – and is trying to get finance for the first of them.

He has been talking to an Indonesian financier/film producer.

“We had one of the action films scripted in English,” he told me, “and now we’ve had it translated into Indonesian and have changed the locations. If we can get it shot in Indonesia, the budget would come way down to £500,000.”

Jason is also, he told me, starting a short film competition with the main event to be held, provisionally, next April.

“We’re looking for up-and-coming talent and short films under five minutes long,” he told me. “There will be a cash prize and an award. We’ve got sponsorship from Elstree Film Studios, Nando’s, The Way Forward Productions and the Ark Theatre. We’re hoping to hold events four times a year. The idea is to get up-and-coming talent and established film-makers together. And we would find enthusiastic new talent, which could be useful.”

If anyone can pull this off, Jason Cook can. His ability to blag and persuade people to do unlikely things – a pre-requisite for making movies – is astonishing. For one of the movies on his slate, he has got free access to an ocean-going yacht and to a Jumbo Jet 747.

“Does it fly?” I asked.

“No,” he told me, “It’s used for training purposes in the middle of a college.”

“Is it just the interior of the cabin?” I asked.

“It’s the exterior and interior of the full cabin and controls and everything.”

“But not the passenger section?” I said.

“The passenger area is there as well.”

“And the tail?”

“The wings are there and the back end of the plane, but not the tail itself.”

“And,” I said, “last time we met, you told me a hotel will put your entire crew up for one of the films for free – and you get free breakfasts. So you’re going to try to find all that film’s locations near that hotel.”

“The hotel have been really good,” said Jason.

“They certainly have,” i said.

“We can film inside the hotel,” he continued, “using it for interior locations. They’ve also said we can accommodate the full crew at very very very cheap rates and they’ll throw breakfast in. I thought it would be best to have all the crew in the same place, with the actors.”

“Yes it would,” I said. “Especially if they’re getting free breakfasts.”

If anyone can get these nine feature films off the ground it is Jason.

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Has Tesco got so big that it does not care about PR or charging one price?

There was a report on the Guardian website a couple of days ago about someone who was almost thrown out of a Tesco store for attempting to compare prices on the shelves. He had noticed a bizarre piece of pricing in which it was more expensive (per bottle) to buy Highland Spring water in 4-packs than in lesser quantities: the opposite of what a casual shopper would assume.

This is something I had noticed myself. There was a surreal period where, at my local Tesco, it was significantly cheaper to buy four individual cans of Red Bull than to buy a 4-pack of Red Bull – the opposite of what you would expect. No special offers were involved; this was the normal, everyday price.

In the case of the Guardian reporter, when he was seen on the Tesco security cameras to be standing by shelves writing down something on a piece of paper, the store’s deputy manager approached him and, when told he was “writing down prices”, responded:

“You’re not allowed to do that. It’s illegal… It’s illegal to write things down and you can’t take any photographs, either. If you want to check the prices, take the item to the till and pay for it there. The price will be on the receipt.”

The store manager told him the same thing.

I thought this might be a quirk. But, when I posted a link to the Guardian article on my Google+ account, someone responded:

“I got escorted from Tesco for taking a snap of price tag on my phone. The same thing – item packed in bulk was 100% more expensive than buying four separate items.”

Someone posted on the Guardian website:

I saw a splendid offer there the other day, some revolting looking snack, 20p each or 4 for a £1.00…

And someone else posted:

Recent gems include:
Fruit squash: £1.35 a bottle or 2 for £2.75
NCG soups: £1 or 2 for £3.00
Bread: £1 a loaf or 2 for £2.00.

There are two things here.

What on earth are Tesco doing with their pricing policy? Occasionally you see TV ads claiming Tesco prices are cheaper than their competitors; and they put prices online. But the company has no actual single price throughout the country – or even in the same neighbourhood. Smaller Tesco Metro stores already routinely charge more for items than larger Tesco stores.

I live in Borehamwood in Hertfordshire. The Tesco store there charges lower prices on everyday items than the Tesco Metro in Radlett, three miles away in the next small town.

Tesco has no uniform pricing. Although it buys in bulk at a set price, it does not sell at a set price and is taking different profit margins from customers in different areas and even at different stores within the same area.

Its TV ads, which quote specific prices for specific products, wrongly imply that there is a single standard price for all items at Tesco. There is not. You go into a Tesco store, you take pot luck on what you pay.

And what’s with this surreal leaping on anyone who dares to attempt to write down the prices in their stores?

Tesco has got so big it appears to have lost control of itself.

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Virgin Media: are they incapable of sending e-mails because their broadband is so slow?

My Virgin Media saga continues, like an eight mile long sloth crawling through sticky semolina.

Two days ago, someone in Hertfordshire told me they could only get occasional and erratic internet connections via their Virgin Media broadband line and the alleged Customer Service Helplines don’t. That’s what I found too.

Yesterday, someone in Buckinghamshire told me they could not watch 3-minute YouTube videos on what Virgin Media claim is the fastest broadband in Britain – because the broadband is so slow.

Today, Virgin Media phoned me “as a courtesy” about my leaving them and asked me, before continuing with their “courtesy” call, to give them my security details including password. I refused – I told them Virgin Media had told me not to give my security details to unknown callers which is exactly what this person who called me out of the blue was. They told me Virgin Media had never told customers not to give their security details out to callers.

That seems a very interesting approach to security; and maybe my memory is fading like a Virgin Media broadband line.

Even more bizarre, it seems that, in the 21st century, Virgin Media is unable to send e-mails to customers – possibly because their broadband is so slow.

Or perhaps this is all part of some new Jeremy Beadle style TV series.

If only… If only…

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