Janice's blog

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Ineptitude, frustration and the NHS

Yesterday in the morning my sensitive tooth felt sore so I wanted to rub some Sensodyne into it and discovered that there was a chunk out of it right at the gumline. I was worried (in case the nerve got inflamed) and called the dentist. The receptionist told me there were no emergency appointments until Tuesday because of staffing shortages and Easter and that I should go to the Emergency Dental clinic at London Hospital, Whitechapel. Off I went and found a clinic that had a notice, open after 7pm. I decided to call the dental office back to let her know and ask for alternatives. The receptionist told me to go to the one on New Road, third floor, around the corner.

I arrived at a very nasty building, rode the list to the third floor, where I was told by an officious woman I should be on the first floor. I walked down two floors and walked into another reception area. There was a large open floor with people being worked on, and three receptionists who were not too interested in looking up to greet me. The third one looked up lazily and greeted me the traditional London way: a'right? Not really, I replied, no one has helped me yet. (OK, OK. I was stroppy...) After telling her I needed emergency dental, she informed me it was on the first floor. I thought I was already there but apparently this was again the third. Could the lift buttons have been wrong, could I have hit 5 by mistake. Who knows!

On the first floor was a waiting room filled with very bored people. Another receptionist was chatting to a friend on her phone and tried to avoid catching my eye. I went ahead anyway and told her I need an appointment. She told me that to get one I would have to be there by 7:15am. Since it was noon, I left and walked over to Brick Lane to have some lunch, walked along Bethnal Green Road to my bus home.

Once at home I called the dental office receptionist again. I told her what I had been told. She was defensive, saying she didn't know. I told her she did now. She brusquely asked me to hold while she talked to a patient. I then listened to her laughing and flirting to two male patients, telling them cheerfully about they could come back for an emergency appointment if they wanted, while wondering if all female patients or just this one were treated with the opposite kind of response.

Back on the line with me, the tone was again one of annoyance. I could come in on Tuesday at 9am and sit with two other hopeful emergency patients waiting for a gap to be seen. I decided that I would try to do this rather than brave the nastiness of the emergency clinic, barring excruciating pain between now and then. She did, however, wonder if I'd tried St Leonard's (this was the first mention of the place). Seeing as I had an appointment there later, I called them to be told that they did not see emergency patients and would I like to come in in June... (sigh).

So far this week has been dismal, for reasons I am too depressed to talk about yet -- oh, I will! I've wasted time, more money than I am comfortable with, and dealt with people whose own agenda was more important even when I was the customer.

OK, I've been pretty negative. I will end by saying that my visit to St. Leonard's was mostly really good. I called ahead to say that I was going to be out of the country and would that affect the delivery of the results of the pap test I was going to have. I was told no and to come in. I arrived during yet another cold blustery shower that dampened my already sagging (and soggy) spirit. The front door was closed and a notice asked me to go to the back door. At the visitors' gate I asked the guard where the entrance was and he got out of his booth and walked me partway explaining cheerfully how to get the rest of the way. Bliss. A customer service person who cares! At the clinic I was reminded how nice the women were. The nurse sat and took time with me over a questionnaire, smiling and commenting and giving me advice along the way. She was reassuring about my blood pressure ('it's just fine!') and gave me a reasonably comfortable exam, chatting along the way. It almost fell apart when I reminded her that I might be away when the results came in. "We don't like people to come in for tests if they will be away during the following three months," she explained. "They should have cancelled." Well, damn!