I stepped back in time yesterday, when I visited Charing Cross Hospital. No, I wasn’t the patient for a change but giving moral support in the same way that it has been given to me in bucket loads recently. The last time that I was there was on my last day of work on the head and neck unit in 1995, OMG 20 years ago! So much has changed superficially in the reception and the initial public areas with the advent of Costa etc, but as we started to trudge the corridors trying to locate the clinic, nothing really has altered at all.
I already had a back problem when I started work on ward 7 North in 1991 and the job interview was the easy part. Every nurse had to go through Occupational Health and who wants a nurse who has undergone major back surgery recently? I had to literally jump through hoops to show that I was fit enough, strong enough to manage the rigours of a 32 bedded surgical ward – a very specialist surgical ward for head and neck, maxillary facial and ENT surgery. It was really intense work and exceptionally busy as we were a regional unit for the type of surgery for head and neck cancer that other surgeons would close the book on. The team consisted of 5 consultants, 2 Senior registrars(consultants in waiting in those days!), 2 registrars, 2 senior house officers and our nursing team of 2 sisters, 8 staff nurses, and our wonderful auxiliary Mabel & cleaner George. We worked hard, but then we played hard – as a team. OK, the consultants only really came out for major events like the Christmas party, but the rest of us socialised regularly. At times the ENT outpatients was even known to be transformed into a party venue on a Friday night! We worked long hours, the nurses worked a 7 night shift pattern every 4 weeks, the junior doctors were constantly on call and we dealt with some horrific cases – but we were a great team who respected each other. Mr Cheesman, the main head and neck surgeon to whom the tricky cases were sent, would not send his major surgical cases to ITU, saying instead that “his” nurses gave the
best care! A huge compliment.
I do believe that this sort of team work is a thing of the past – the days when the cleaner was as much a team member as the sister, and you could eat your dinner off the kitchen floor. For then the services started to be put out to tender and standards altered. My experience as both a patient and a relative at some district general hospitals across the country has been poor and in a couple of cases appalling in recent years.
However my faith has been somewhat restored by St Thomas’ and Guys’ – they may not be quite like my old unit and I may be reminiscing with rose tinted specs. The pain unit is specialist, but it isn’t just within this unit that there is a difference in the attitude of the staff – the staff generally are patient focused, keen to please, happy and helpful. I’m afraid that even my old stomping ground didn’t match up yesterday as we were passed from pillar to post. But my stim was invaluable and I probably kept it switched on for a lot longer than I should have – eventually my back and leg got the better of me, and Duncan had to leave me in the sitting room of the wrong department as I couldn’t manage another step! Shame that I don’t have real bionic woman powers…..