Guest Post: Peter KingOn the 29th of November 2006 a letter was published in the Whitehorse Leader newspaper regarding my experience at the Box Hill Hospital’s emergency department. Chief amongst the complaints were the long waiting times. I have since received a reply from the hospital and the Victorian Minister for Health which I find unsatisfactory and which I will be following up.
Of great concern to me were the letters in the paper the following week which appear to attempt to deflect this criticism by asserting that I shouldn’t have been at the emergency department in the first place and some went as far as to suggest that my actions were something akin to dole bludging or worse!
These respondents, some of who refuse to publish their names, not only appear to know more about my medical condition than I do but also appear not to have read my letter properly. I reported that I had a ‘head trauma’ and that this required an X-ray, a situation that any reasonable person would not consider a mere ‘cut’, ‘bump’, ‘lump’ or ‘bruise’ on the head. Further to this, I can also inform readers that Nurses-On-Call told me to go to an emergency department and that Box Hill Hospital concur with this decision after reading my original unedited letter. Finally my new GP, as I was about to board a plane for overseas, said on the telephone; “If you have any further problem, go to hospital” and not just “go to a doctor”.
Whilst I now understand the emotion that many people feel about criticism of our local hospital, I am not one that believes that doctors, nurses and hospitals are above reproach and I’m sure, given the Doctor Death scandal in Queensland (and others scandals), that many Australians would agree with me.
One of the many ironies that I see in the responses to my letter is that, by writing to the local paper, I was informing others of the long waiting times and, at the same time, informing them that there is an alternative in some cases. I mention that it cost me $40 to go to the Burwood HealthCare, ‘Name supplied, Blackburn’, not because I begrudge paying this but simply to let others know - particularly those who may not be able to afford the on-the-spot payment.
I was also motivated to write my letter because of the ABC’s Victorian Stateline program which criticized the long waiting list for elective surgery, the long delay in seeing a specialist just to get on the waiting list and, finally, the long waiting times in emergency departments. Indeed the triage nurse at Box Hill Hospital suggested to me that waiting times had worsened in recent months. This was something that was edited out of my letter along with the comment that, in my opinion, it was not the fault of nurses or doctors but what was happening was due to financial or political pressures. I have since spoken to a senior nurse about the crises in our hospitals and she agreed with me and further encouraged me to speak out by saying; “You know … one person can make a difference.”
Just as many of my detractors do not understand the purpose of an emergency department, which is sometimes called a ‘trauma’ or ‘casualty’ department by the way, some reacted to my use of the term ‘non-urgent patients’ to also suggest that my condition was not serious enough to be treated at the emergency department. My understanding of ‘non-urgent’ is anyone who does not have a life threatening condition requiring immediate attention and has to wait. I was speaking on behalf of all patients who have to wait for treatment in the emergency department.
After reading government documents, freely available on the internet, I have also come to the conclusion that there is clearly an incentive for hospitals to not only invite patients to use the emergency department rather than go elsewhere but also for the hospital to classify as many patients as possible in the lowest priority category. I have since discovered others who have experienced the same. Namely, after waiting far longer than the estimated time they decide to leave and only then are they provided with a viable alternative - Burwood HealthCare which has X-ray facilities on the premises. I did ask, when I arrived, how long I would be waiting and then for any alternative. I was given no viable alternative. By the way, Nurses-On-Call would not suggest an alternative and insisted that I go to the emergency department!
To illustrate the seriousness of the crises in our hospitals, I have a friend who spent eight hours on a trolley in Royal Melbourne Hospital with a wrist broken in six places. He was then told that there was no surgeon available to operate on him for three days! Clearly, he was considered a non-urgent patient. His comment to me was “I can’t believe that this is happening in Australia”. “Nor can I”, I said … “Nor can I”.
Peter King, Burwood