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You just keep me hanging on

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 36, PAGE NO: 33

Pat Ramdhanie, RGN HV DND

Britain is becoming more like Humpty Dumpty in its use of language. You may recall that when asked about the meaning of words, Humpty Dumpty replied that a word meant what he said it meant - nothing more, nothing less.

Britain is becoming more like Humpty Dumpty in its use of language. You may recall that when asked about the meaning of words, Humpty Dumpty replied that a word meant what he said it meant - nothing more, nothing less.

During the recent election campaign there was a great deal of comment about waiting lists. Were they, like Alice in Wonderland, growing or shrinking?

But recent experience has caused me to ask another question - when is a waiting list a waiting list, and when do you know that you are on one?

I recently consulted my GP about a condition which, although not life-threatening, has reduced the quality of my life for some time. My GP referred me to the local consultant.

A letter arrived from the hospital, but it was not the expected outpatient appointment. The letter informed me that about six weeks prior to my appointment, another letter would arrive advising me exactly when and where my appointment would be. The letter further advised that my appointment was likely to be in eight month's time.

In these times of financial constraints, cut backs and value-for-money initiatives, I am curious. Why is such a letter necessary?

Is it because in uncertain times it is unwise to make appointments for the next calendar year, or does the outpatient sister know something that the rest of us do not, namely that next year has been cancelled?

It appears I am now on a waiting list to go on a waiting list - a position that does not feature in the statistics collected by government. Such activity is, in my view, patronising and dishonest.

The letter is like those annoying messages so much in vogue on telephone helplines: 'the person you are calling knows you are waiting' or 'all our operatives are busy at the moment and you are being held in a queue.'

Patients do not need to be told 'we know you have a problem and we will get back to you'. What they need is the date of their appointment.

Has anybody thought about what such a letter would mean to an older person, or someone less aware of the 'games' played in the interest of statistics? I doubt they would be reassured. They are more likely to be angry, confused and even distressed.

It would be interesting to know how many of these 'reassuring' holding letters are sent out nationwide and at what cost, and whether a running total is kept of those who, like me, are now on a waiting list to go on the waiting list.

If the current initiative for NHS patients to receive treatment in European hospitals goes ahead, will the benefits be negated as those waiting to go on the waiting list move up in their place? How will that be explained?

Or could someone be hoping that, like on the telephone, we have got tired of waiting and gone away? Only time will tell.

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