Having spent the last few hours or so pacing up and down wards harassing sick people. OK, so it doesn’t sound like the best idea but hear me out. My aim was to gather as many useful suggestions for changes in hospital service as possible. Patients surely have the answers, so by speaking to them, they will take the opportunity to voice any concerns and in doing so help us improve how we provide their care. Not such a bad idea I hear you say. In truth, the prospect of wondering up to patients (of course, avoiding those that need a doctor or nurse rather than a communications person) and interrogating them about food quality or waiting times is always daunting. You recall all those irritating people who stop you on the high-street and pester you to go or do something like paint-balling or try and sell you a timeshare in Bognor (although come to think of it, that annoys me slightly less. I like Bognor). I’m thinking at best, the patients would strongly ‘suggest’ I leave them alone, or at worst, start asking me really complicated clinical questions about their care.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. A full ten minutes after approaching the first patient I wondered away from his bay frantically jotting down notes. Apart from the odd tired patient or one with a determined “I’m reading leave me alone” look, patients were genuinely keen to talk. My only problem was getting anybody to say anything negative. I tried subtly implying that not everything on the ward was perfect but on and on they went about how great the staff were. What about my empty suggestion sheet I thought! …how inconsiderate of them.
But I wasn’t about to give up. Doing my best impression of Paxman, I finally managed to weed out a few suggestions about supporting the staff better or keeping toilets clean. However, each criticism was almost whispered like a dirty word. I know there is much we need to improve – the national patient surveys tell us so - and I know that people don’t want to appear ungrateful, but genuinely there was a good feeling on the wards. Sometimes it's not about asking questions about their care, more than anything it's about spending time with them and even if you don’t get around to talking about hospitals, people like being listened to – and I for one enjoy listening and look forward to my next 'ward round'.