Local MP demands urgent meeting with hospital boss after worrying news of merger

Following the recent news of a potential merger between the Whittington and the Royal Free Hospital Trusts, Lynne Featherstone MP has today demanded an urgent meeting with the Whittington Chief Executive to ensure local residents’ concerns are taken on board.

Lynne Featherstone MP comments:

“I have today demanded an urgent meeting with the Whittington Chief Executive, to make sure local residents’ needs and concerns are at the heart of any debate about merging these two hospitals.

“Many local residents already have to travel long distances to get to their nearest hospital and I want to make it clear to the hospital bosses, that a further deterioration in service is unacceptable.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor David Winskill, Member of the Haringey’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, adds:

“For some time now, there has been a lot of concern about what the Darzi plans for London’s health services will actually mean.”

“Although there are some very good aspects, it seems that the full implications for our network of general hospitals have just not been thought through. This is a matter I will be pursuing through Scrutiny.”

Patients fight back!

Published today is the Patients’ Association report today that says that patients are often treated rudely, left to wet themselves, have their call buttons taken away, etc – and that it is nurses who deliver such abuse. Let me first say that many nurses do a brilliant job and are often very hard pushed for time. They have a lot of clinical work to do, particularly on high-dependency wards, but also have to spend a great deal of time form-filling. Clearly, however, there are something like 200,000 patients each year whose treatment is completely unacceptable. We would all be horrified if a relative of ours received such rough treatment when in hospital.

Two personal experiences: firstly when I was a volunteer at the Royal Free Hospital (many many years ago) I was on a highly clinical ward where the nurses were rushed off their feet. The patients were dreadfully sick and dying – but when a nurse had time to plump a pillow or stop for a two sentence chat – you could see the patient (despite however awful they were feeling) brighten and perk up – a little. And it is that caring side of nursing that helps recovery just as importantly. Imagine the devastating effect on well-being of being treated rudely or agressively.

Second personal story came from one of my daughters – quite a few years ago at the Whittington – where she had to be admitted as an emergency overnight and was put (because there were no other beds) on the geriatric female ward. During the night there was one old woman calling a nurse because she needed a bed pan. The woman called and called. After an hour, my daughter got up and walked to this woman’s bed and she was crying and saying she was desperate. So my daughter then went to the nurses’ station to tell them of the woman’s need for a bed pan. The nurse said she was too busy and that that woman was always asking for things. A further hour passed and then – inevitably – she wet herself.

Since becoming an MP, I meet regularly (about four times a year) with the Chief Executive of the Whittington – and top priority for me has been about nursing care. In the days gone by that I describe above – there was a nursing shortage under which circumstances – although not excusable – the nurses were rushed of their feet. However, that is not the case now, and in my Annual Residents’ Survey the year before last I asked a question about treatment in hospital. There was praise and criticsim for nurses – as you would expect – but the real shock is that anyone would receive rude or agressive treatment in hospital – and yet there it was. David Sloman, Chief Exec of the Whittington has assured me that nursing care is top priority there now. I just heard yesterday that he has gone to the Royal Free (need to find out why – as the health shake up in London will mean winners and losers.)

So – anyway – the point is I am very glad that the Patients’ Association has done the work and produced these statistics. And whilst we all rush to protect the good nurses – we do need to keep up the pressure on weeding out the bad ones.

ET demonstrated a really human need

Here’s my latest column from the Ham & High:

A mobile phoneET demonstrated a really human need – which given he was an alien and also not real perhaps makes the point even stronger. What did ET want to do most? Phone home!

Nowhere is that need to speak to loved ones stronger than in hospital when you are ill – or even if you are not ill and have had something delightful like having a baby. We all want to phone home – or to use another vernacular – phone a friend.

So it always seemed particularly cruel and heartless that phoning home – the use of a phone at your hospital bedside (or even if you are mobile in the corridor) was priced at a hideously high rate, commercialised and contracted. Why did they ever think that was a good or fair or kind idea? No – don’t answer!

But now the good news – the government has just relaxed the ban on the use of mobile phones in hospitals. Some of our local hospitals already have progressive policies on mobile phone use, and I hope they will all seize this opportunity to review their policies and give patients the greatest freedom possible to stay in touch. It’s not just the removal of the ban on mobiles that is important – it is how that relaxation is welcomed or otherwise (and implemented) by our local hospitals.

Now is the moment to get this right and that is why I have now written to the chief executives of the Whittington, North Middlesex, Royal Free and Haringey Teaching Primary Care Trust (TPCT) calling for an urgent review of their policies on mobile phones.

Of course there must continue to be sensible restrictions to preserve tranquillity and protect privacy. However, I think it’s easy to underestimate the benefits of being able to receive a goodnight text from a loved one when you’re ill.

One reason for reviewing with urgency is that it would appear that patients are taking matters into their own hands. One account I heard was from someone who spent a few hours accompanying a patient in a ward where, following the government announcement and not waiting for any new hospital ‘regulations’ they are already simply ignoring the notices forbidding the use of mobile phones. This is a clear indication in my view of the deep resentment that patients have felt at being forced to use the commercially contracted phones. Released from the chains that have bound them, at the first opportunity they are just doing what anyone would.

There is some concern out there about whether mobile phone signals interfere with important medical equipment. But my understanding is that they only interfere with very particular equipment and those areas could still have a ban – but all the more reason to get new rules in place, and fast, so that people understand that any remaining bans are there for good reason rather than just a left over from the past.

Doctors at the John Radcliffe hospital, in Oxford, said way back in 2003 that any interference is temporary and localised. Most such sensitive equipment is actually in operating theatres – and certainly it isn’t going to be the patient’s mobile that is the problem there – only the nurses, doctors and surgeons!

Perhaps there is at least one really valid concern – whether it is medically a good idea as patients should be resting not working or even chatting too much from a hospital bed. You can just imagine for example how a workaholic, perhaps even driven to hospital by their habits, might be over-keen to keep in touch with work. And there are the other patients within earshot to respect. But on the other side there is a feeling of isolation when you are in hospital. So just like visiting, perhaps there should be times when there should be no mobile calls and rest times for patients.

So – hurrah. Common sense is beginning to win the day – and we haven’t seen much of that recently!

Hossam Ghaly and Spurs help local kids

Had to go and get lots of jabs! Looking after international development means I’ll be spending some time sharing territory with mosquitoes and worse – so immunisation is the order of the day. I go off to the Royal Free, which has a really helpful travel clinic. I gladly wait beyond my appointment time to let in a gentleman in a wheelchair who is late for his appointment (the one before mine) because he has not been able to park. Pay attention Royal Free – people in wheelchairs either need more spaces allocated or they need to be offered appointments at less busy times of the day.

The unlucky man had had to literally just leave the car somewhere on the street and wheel himself up (and the Royal Free is on a bit of a hill) to get to the main entrance. The clinic was good with him and for his next appointment have arranged an early one – but that shouldn’t be done only after an experience like that.

So – today I am replete with yellow fever and meningitis jabs and next week its tetanus, diphtheria, polio and something else I’ve forgotten. I have my malaria tablets, insect repellent (one that apparently dissolves plastic) and a tummy upset kit (polite phrasing.! So – I will be prepared!

Lynne Featherstone and Hossam Ghaly launching new football scheme for local kidsBut the event of today was visiting Spurs. I am there to launch a new sort of ‘get kids off the streets’ programme where Spurs as part of their new inclusion unit works with the local community to combat crime.

As I said to the kids from Noel Park (who are the first up for this new venture) I get lots of complaints about kids playing football on the streets – and here at last is a good idea with somewhere they can play legitimately AND with Spurs. No better partner. All of the credit really goes to the police – and more particularly Noel Park Safer Neighbourhood Team who have put this all together. Congrats to Andy and the team!

The Noel Park crew arrived and after extremely brief speeches from Spurs, me, a councillor and the police – it was on to the main menu.

Star footballer Hossam Ghaly was there to hand out the new kit to the team and then – when they got into their kit – knock a ball around with them. One of my colleagues from the constituency, Matt Davies (Lib Dem councillor for Fortis Green) had kindly come to take the photos – and I could see in his eyes the envy of these kids getting to play with a Spurs footballer. Matt is an avid Spurs fan (which is probably why he volunteered to come and take the shots)!

Royal Free hospital

Reflecting on the swingeing cuts at the Royal Free and having done a bit of homework with various medical experts, I have come to the conclusion that many of the problems stem from the fact that management make decisions about which jobs to cut, and doctors are relatively expensive compared to, say, nurses.

However due to the way medicine works, it requires several nurses on the ward for every doctor. At the end of the day it is clinical staff – not managers – who see, assess, treat, take responsibility for, and discharge patients. The biggest growth area in the NHS is middle management. It would be virtually impossible to find a clinician who has any idea of the purpose/reason for this management ‘growth industry.’ Conversely managers often start interfering with clinical decisions based on a lack of medical understanding – for example pressure to discharge patients prematurely, thereby increasing their chances of rapid readmission.

Admittedly most doctors are patient-centred and not management-trained, so those hard-working managers who keep our cupboards stocked and pay the bills are crucial. The rest, who sit in pointless 9-5 meetings and hypothesise about meeting targets, while there are not enough clinicians to possibly do so within the limits of physics, should be redistributed.

Boxing in Haringey

Surgery as usual in the morning. (If you are a new reader and wondering – no, I’m not a doctor in my spare time! This is when I have a series of meetings with residents who raise their individual issues with me. Normally it’s a particular problem they need help with, but also too there are people who want to meet me to raise a wider issue or concern).

This is followed by meeting with the Chief Executive of the Whittington, David Sloman. I am dreading hearing that the ruthless job-letting next door at the Royal Free is to be repeated at the Whittington. But so far so good…

I rush on to open World Tuberculosis event – which is a really good event. TB used to stalk our communities before the war. In fact my mother’s fiancé died of it. Nowadays it is curable and treatable – but back then it was touch and go. Clearly, as I exist, my mother met and married someone else – and as time went on TB became a thing of the past.

But now it is rearing its ugly head again, particularly in London – and particularly among communities where deprivation is high and among vulnerable people who have HIV/AIDS, cancer, alcoholism, etc. I remember when I was on the Health Committee at the London Assembly we looked into the rise of TB in London. The main findings then were that people, once they felt better and were back out in the community, stopped taking their medication before they should have. Anyway – the good news in Haringey and Enfield, is that treatment is free and that there are really good and committed teams working in the hospitals and the communities together to tackle this rising problem.

I have had to give my speech to the TB event in evening dress as I have to literally run off as soon as I finish speaking to what is one of my most favourite events of the year. This is the Annual Haringey Amateur Boxing Match where the Haringey Boxers fight an invited club or organisation at a proper charity dinner where funds are raised to continue funding the boxing club. It was originally set up by Stephen James (two police commanders of Haringey ago). He is still involved and the two commanders since, Stephen Bloomfield and now Simon O’Brien are also carrying on the enthusiasm and commitment.

I know- boxing has a bad name. But this is not about two men slugging it out in 15 rounds without head protection. This is well trained, well-monitored, well-refereed young people who fight three 3 minute rounds with proper head gear and so on. And the work done with kids from the most deprived areas gives a great pathway out of street life.

Before the dinner kicks off – Simon O’Brien and I go through to the boxers dressing rooms for photographs – and they give me boxing gloves to put on and pose as if I am fighting. Not sure about political correctness! But I am a fan of this type of boxing. I enjoy it. I think it does a lot of good in the communities that have the most challenges. The police have done a fantastic job with this initiative – and I understand that there are around five other boroughs starting or looking to start similar activities.

The dinner is served – and then it is on with the show. They sure come out fighting and the energy and the talent and skill are extraordinary. The fifth contest does make my jaw drop open as it is two girls fighting. I know – it’s an equal world – but it was the first time I had seen girls fight (outside of Million Dollar Baby – and that hardly had a happy ending!). They were as energetic and tough as the boys – and it really is an equality that I hadn’t expected.

I presented two of the winners with there trophies. Up close after a bout – you can see the exertion in the buckets of sweat and depth of chest heaving. Quite an extraordinary sport.