It’s time to stop kidding ourselves. The NHS is broken - my mum's recent experience is proof enough for me

2 April 2024, 18:51 | Updated: 2 April 2024, 18:54

A 36+ hour wait in A&E leaves LBC’s Will Guyatt wondering how you fix it

Will Guyatt says his mother's recent experience with the NHS shows there's something seriously wrong
Will Guyatt says his mother's recent experience with the NHS shows there's something seriously wrong. Picture: Alamy/LBC
Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

By Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

Here’s a secret - it’s quite easy to fix most faulty tech. More often than not the age-old “turn if off and on again” works pretty well. Now, if only there was something that simple to help a poorly loved one.

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We all recognise the NHS is under pressure, but this weekend, Jane, my elderly mum waited around 36 hours to be admitted to the Royal United Hospital in Bath after a suspected seizure or mini stroke.

I’m so apoplectic about the shoddy experience she was forced to endure, I’m likely to end up in hospital myself.

Until around two years ago, Mum lived a really active life - she loved gardening, spending time with my Dad (someone has to like him) and playing with her grand daughters, and then overnight it was suddenly taken away when she was hit by a double brain haemorrhage. Her life was saved by an amazing NHS team who operated for around 12 hours.

After three months in hospital, Mum finally returned home to her husband Pete, AKA my Dad. He does an incredible job of looking after mum instead of enjoying his twilight years - he’s pretty much a 24/7 carer and does a fabulous job.

Mum has a complex set of needs - at the heart of it is a condition called Jargon Aphasia, which has messed up her speech, but leaves her thinking she’s still making perfect sense to everybody - which causes huge frustration all round. She also suffers seizures as a result of her condition.

On Easter Sunday, and after a call with 111, an Ambulance was quickly dispatched, with mum taken into hospital around 1:30pm - thanks to excellent support from two paramedics.

It was on her arrival at the Royal United Hospital that things took a challenging turn. Mum waited until “around 1am” on Tuesday to be admitted to a ward. I’ve used the quote marks in my last sentence, because nobody at the hospital seems to actually know what time she was moved.

From arrival in Bath, it was clear to Dad that the A&E team were under severe pressure and massive workload - even when arriving at lunchtime.

As the hours progressed, mum received snatched moments from medical staff - who were caring and attentive, but unable to stop for more than a moment.

With the hours drifting my mum sat anxious, frightened and frustrated in a chair - until she got upgraded to a bed in the A&E bay about 16 hours in.

At 2:45am on the first night, my tired and emotional Dad called - he hadn’t seen a doctor in hours despite promises they would check in when they could, and with health issues of his own, he needed to go home and rest. I promised him Monday would be a better day. I was wrong.

On Dad’s return to the hospital, Mum was still in exactly the same place as there were still no available beds. Because of the lack of face time with a doctor, it appears that Mum’s treatment required a response from a neurosurgeon at a neighbouring NHS Trust who either wasn’t working over the Bank Holiday weekend, or charitably, was overwhelmed with work on their own patch - another delay alongside the lack of a bed.

After many hours of caring for an exhausted Mum at the hospital, Dad once again went home, and I again promised a better day ahead. This time I was correct.

After 36 hours, Mum is now on a ward getting the specialist support she shouldn’t have waited for, with additional tests and support from occupational therapists and physios.

I can remember when waiting four hours in A&E was considered a rough ride - but something is clearly now very wrong if it takes almost two days for someone with a history of strokes and complex health needs to find a bed.

So, how do you fix the NHS? I don’t think this mess will be easily fixed by a new government and I’m beginning to wonder if upper echelons of management are really cut out to lead a service that’s under such pressure, because many of those at the cutting edge still really care about patients.

This might be the exhaustion talking, but hear me out.

If Mark Zuckerberg can keep services like Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp operational for around 2bn people a day - maybe it’s time to finally think outside of the box with our health service. It really couldn’t be worse than the reality many of those who need it most are facing.

The Royal United Hospital has just posted on X that its cafe is closed for refurbishment. Where was the post this weekend suggesting people avoided A&E because it was a no-go zone? Let’s hope the bosses aren’t trying to hide it, because I reckon there are stories like Jane Guyatt’s everywhere.