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Learning from a waiting-room revolution

I knew something was wrong as soon as I entered the clinic. I had been called down from theatre to help in clinic on many occasions, usually because of overbooking or staff sickness, but this time it was different.

The pile of notes on the little table in the clinic was higher than I had ever seen it, with a small accessory pile on the floor next to one of the doors.

The biggest difference was the atmosphere though. The patients’ eyes followed my path to an empty consulting room more closely than ever before and there seemed to be an unspoken communication between them of general dissatisfaction that threatened to shatter the illusion of civility that usually separated the patients from the staff.

The consultant was beside himself. ‘I don’t know why management keeps on doing it,’ he said. ‘This time it’s worse than ever.’ He patted me on the back and sent me out to the battlefield.

Grabbing the first set of notes from the top of the pile, I set to work. After seeing my third patient, who had been waiting for more than two and a half hours, I heard the first shouts of rebellion from the waiting room. The words were indistinct but the tone was clear.

‘We have had enough.’

There followed more animated discussion between patients who had hitherto been strangers, mainly centred around the appalling wait.

By the time I called the fourth patient through, an older woman patient felt bold enough to ask me why the NHS was in such a state as this. Her neighbour, a stout middle-aged man with a cane, said to no one in particular that the hospital should be shut down.

Having to leave my room briefly to check some blood results, a young man with iritis blocked my path. ‘This clinic is a load of rubbish’ he said, or words to that effect. I apologised for the delay, but it was no use.

The nurse tried to appease him by saying it was perhaps the consultant he should be addressing rather than anyone else when my senior made an unfortunate entrance to get a new set of notes.

The angry young man turned to the unsuspecting consultant and shouted ‘YOU are a load of rubbish’ before turning and marching out of the clinic. The whole audience cheered and each and every patient I saw after that told me with some satisfaction about the complaint letter they would write.

The following morning, still shaken by what had occurred, I sat in my kitchen watching the news. President Mubarak of Egypt had been sentenced to life imprisonment. The people of Egypt, who had earlier decided that enough was enough and had risen against their rulers, had seen the process through by imprisoning their old leader. It was then that I realised that some good might have come out of the previous day’s clinic after all.

Perhaps the ‘Eye Clinic Spring’ would eventually cause, due to the torrent of complaints that would doubtless flood in, a better clinic booking system to be implemented. And if it resulted in management being imprisoned for life then I was all for it.

Gwyn Williams, specialty trainee 4 in ophthalmology in south Wales

Posted in:  Work and life Communication skills

Tags:  patients complaints communication skills

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