Waiting lists


The bane of public health services in the UK and Australia are the waiting lists.  I am quite sure that the same will be found all over the world, especially through the public hospital systems, which are always under-funded, under-staffed and over-full!

The following is a true story.  The situation was quite a few years ago, but it is still the same today.  I was working as a Junior Physician in the Torbay Hospital in Devon UK in 1967, where we had to dictate our letters to the GP’s which would then go to a secretary for typing.  I overheard one of the surgeons, Colin Wilmshurst, dictating his letter and it went like this, “Dear Dr Brown, Thank you for referring Mr Jones.  I agree with your diagnosis that he has indeed got bilateral bunions and needs operation.  Consequently I have booked him in for operation and I confidently expect to have him in during the early 1970’s (this was 1967, remember).  In the interim, I have suggested he wear thick socks!”

I spoke with a nurse from Australia recently and she told me that the waiting lists Down-Under were now being measured in years for some non-urgent conditions.  Nothing has changed!

One of the reasons is the appalling inefficiency in the hospital facilities.  For example, my mother was in hospital in the UK for five weeks, but she should not have been there.  Why?  Because she was merely taking up a bed because the doctors in charge of her case had not yet made a diagnosis, so she must stay in for further tests.

All of the above sounds quite reasonable, until you find out that to have an echocardiogram there is a wait of several days, and another wait for the results.  Ditto for a colonoscopy.  Ditto for blood tests.  Ditto for anything else, but not including bed pans, which can be delivered reasonably promptly, I was assured by my mother.

I did manage to talk to my mother in her hospital bed.  It was quite simple really.  You ring the hospital and then get the telephone number of the ward she is in, as they cannot transfer your call, as there is some problem with the switchboard.  Then you ring the ward directly, and the nurse will give you the telephone number of the phone they take to the bedside.  “But please wait a few minutes, so we can take it to her while she waits for your call.  You’re lucky today, the phone wasn’t working last week.”  So eventually you do get to speak to each other.

In the chat, I found out that mother had a fall while in hospital and has hurt her hip.  She cannot get about and now has to use a Zimmer hopper.  Previously she could walk normally.  I asked if she had had an X-Ray of the hip.  Negative.

I rang and after two days managed to speak to the doctor looking after my mother.  He agreed that an X-Ray of the hip would be in order, so he promised he would arrange it.  Of course that took a couple of days, and the results likewise, but he assures me there was no fracture.  I wish I could have as much faith in his diagnostic ability with X-Rays as he has.  It would have been nice to get them to email me the digital X-Rays for my radiologists here to look at, and also to my radiologist son in Australia.  Unfortunately, this was not possible, and the treating doctor did not know if the hospital even had an email address.  I shouldn’t complain, as in 1815 when they laid the foundation stone for the hospital, the UK was a little busy celebrating the Battle of Waterloo to worry about emails.

But back to mother occupying a bed in the UK for five weeks.  The biggest hold-up was that the cardiologist hadn’t seen her, and it was he who wanted further tests.  I asked the treating doctor why mother was yet to see the ‘Great Man’ and was told that there was only one cardiologist.

In my hospital in Third World Thailand, the entire process would have taken three days.  You never had it so good!