AS I SEE IT: The best - and worse - of the NHS

Time after time, I hear people bemoaning the NHS and “terrible service” it provides.

I’m guilty of it myself. Dirty hospitals, lack of nursing direction, gaping holes in basic care and long waiting lists for operations that would make life easier and less painful for a massive number of people.

But then our family was hit, more accurately, sledgehammered, by the horrible and cruel disease that is cancer. In the short space of nine months, my beloved dad was diagnosed, operated on, embarked on an arduous schedule of the strongest chemotherapy available and, ultimately, given palliative care at home.

During our journey we experienced at close hand many of the services the NHS has to offer. The operative stage found us in the care of a wonderful surgeon who addressed both my dad and us with the utmost respect and spoke honestly and directly about his diagnosis and the treatment that would follow. His compassion and humility knew no bounds and we were in no doubt we had received care money could not buy. The NHS is at its best in an emergency situation.

Of course, there were many other downturns on this roller coaster that was becoming our life. Our experience of general after care on the wards can at best be described as functional, but at worst, appalling. The worst thing was, it didn’t appear to us to be down to any funding issues, as would be a common misconception. It was solely down to what we’ve come to describe as “headless chicken” syndrome.

There seemed to be little communication between the nursing staff and doctors and we constantly had to remind people about medication due, changing dressings, and repeatedly request the most mundane and basic aspects of general care, such as bathing my dad and addressing the cleanliness of his room.

As our journey progressed and palliative care became the only option, we were truly humbled by the amazing people we have had the pleasure to come into contact with. When he needed it most, dad was given dignity and respect in his final weeks.

The team of district nurses, particularly those based in Clitheroe, came to be not only an essential part of our everyday lives, but also constant providers of comfort to our family.

A phone call away, they were always there to reassure and nothing was ever too much trouble.

We never even knew these wonderful people existed, let alone you could ring them at 3 a.m. and they would be with you within the hour, often with a reassuring hug and always a smile.

Our experiences have shown us the best and worst of our healthcare system and I can only conclude that we, as a society, are extremely lucky to have, in many cases, the best of the best people looking after us. If the basics were addressed and direction given from the top, surely it would be possible to address the rest?

KATIE HAMMOND