I am afraid this is a personal medical story, but I think it makes a very damning point about the state of the NHS. There is no sensible way to tell it without giving an uncomfortable (I suspect for both of us) level of medical detail about myself.
I had two collapses very early in the New Year, one with loss of consciousness of over ten minutes. On the second occasion we called 999, and the response was superb – a paramedic in less than five minutes and and ambulance in less than ten.
In A & E, I had an ECG and x-ray and was told there was an indication of minor heart failure. I then collapsed again and had entered major atrial fibrillation. I was rushed up to the critical conditions unit, where the condition responded to injections. I was kept in for the next six days. The diagnosis was paroxysmic atrial fibrillation. I was discharged on a dose of 1.25mg of Bisoprolol a day, 2 x 50mg of Flecanide and 2 x 150 mg of Pradaxa. The bisoprolol, even at that low dose, puts me into bradycardia at about 50 beats per minute, but the fibrillation immediately returns without it – that was the conclusion of the six days admission.
All these drugs were new to me.
I was slightly concerned that in six days in hospital, my total face time with a cardiologist was about three minutes – one sighting of two minutes and two of about thirty seconds. In virtually none of that three minutes did the cardiologist address me, but rather the junior doctors and nurses. There was no echocardiogram done.
On discharge the cardilogist told his team that he needed to see me again in six weeks to assess my progress on the medicines. I was discharged on 10 January and therefore was surprised to receive an appointment for 7 May. I telephoned to query this, and the cardiologist’s secretary told me that she knew six weeks was requested, but that 7 May was the first available appointment. I asked if she realised that was 17 weeks not 6, and she replied that was within the allotted NHS target time.
Unfortunately I have been feeling constantly ill since starting on these medicines. Dizzy, faint and nauseous, with severe palpitations. I get very tired very quickly, and fall asleep instantly on putting my head down at any time of day or night.
On discharge from hospital the consultant also ordered a 24 hour ECG (3 week waiting list) and contrast echocardioram (8 week waiting list). Having now had these investigations, I have no idea what the results were and apparently will not be told until I see the cardiologist.
I have twice been to see the G.P. to explain how ill I am feeling. The G.P. said he would write to the cardiologist to see if the 7 May appointment could be brought forward.
Then yesterday I received a letter giving a change of cardiologist appointment – to 17 July! That is a 32 week wating list. It is exactly 26 weeks – half a year – after the date at which the cardiologist said I should be seen again!
In the meantime, I have no idea whether I feel so ill because of the drugs, or because of progressive heart failure. I have no idea what were the results of my tests. I have no idea of the prognosis. I have no idea as to the cause of the paroxysmal atrial fibrillation in the first place.
I have to say that my experience of the NHS in London was entirely different to this. When I had heart problems in 2004, all apponitments and tests and an eventual procedure were carried out extremely promptly – within days – and I at no stage felt left in the dark.
Is this an extreme example of a postcode lottery, or has the NHS declined so drastically in the last few years (or both)? My strong suspicion is that NHS resources are more freely available in more affluent areas, and that being treated out of the QEQM hospital in Margate is probably as bad as the NHS gets (I know those outside S.E. England may find this hard to believe, but Margate is a centre of serious poverty and social deprivation).
Please print this article out and keep it. In the event my heart packs in before I see that cardiologist, please douse it in petrol and stack it against the door of No. 10.