‘Experiencing the NHS for myself’

I’m positive that we all do our best to avoid kicking up a fuss but sometimes it is necessary for us. When this happens though I always worry about how I might be putting people out, or what impact I am having on someone.

Whenever I am unwell, I do my best to self-care, look after myself or just power through. Often to my girlfriends chagrin, as sometimes I need to seek out help or ask for advice to ease my (and her) ‘suffering’. I recently discovered that I can use my local pharmacy for health advice; admittedly I had not known this. I’d always been under the impression that for any consultation or decisions to be made, I would have to see my GP in the first instance.

As you may know, getting in to see a GP isn’t always the easiest thing, perhaps this is why I always prefer to just get on with it myself? Rather than taking up space or worrying that I’m wasting the doctor’s time, something which I had said to my doctor on many an occasion when I have been seen, I would just get on with it myself. So learning that there is a convenient, walk-in location nearby that can provide sound advice is great to find out about.

I had had a pretty bad cough of late, in fact it had been stuck with my for seven or eight months at this point. I hadn’t really thought too much about it because it was pretty low key and I don’t like to make a bother. But thanks to national campaigns from the NHS I saw that I should be getting a cough over three weeks checked out. In the first instance I popped to the pharmacy and they suggested some cough syrup, but to go see the GP. So when necessary they will recommend this.

Flash forward a couple of weeks and I am at a concert at First Direct Arena in Leeds and enjoying the musical stylings of one of my favourite bands, Volbeat. At the gig, I went over on my ankle, but because of the crowd and the direction they were going in the standing area, I couldn’t stop and went over it again immediately. When I eventually managed to move out of the crowds (I do like a good mosh pit) I realised that I had hurt my ankle quite bad. During the break, between bands, I was hobbling to the bar for some water when I clocked the helpful folks from St. John’s Ambulance.

I explained what had happened and they offered to have a look. Sure enough my ankle was “swelling before our very eyes”. They offered me some advice and even managed to arrange me a seat so that I could still watch the concert without struggling to be comfortable, greatly appreciated. This happened on a Friday so I had to rest for the weekend and figured it best to see the GP on the following Monday.

As we all like to do, I shared my lovely swollen ankle on Facebook for all to see. Lots of sympathy came in as well as some chastising from my mother. A few people said that I should be going to A&E as they were concerned I had badly damaged it. I had considered this, but given that my ankle was not causing me any immediate difficulties (apart from walking around, but it was manageable) I decided that it could wait till Monday. I succeeded in getting a GP appointment (64 redials) and was, thankfully, taken down to the GPs. Upon review the doctor said it seemed like a bad sprain but because of tenderness in particular areas he would like me to get it X-rayed to be sure. I was given the X-ray referral form and off I went to the hospital.

As I had been given the form I was able to hobble straight to the radiology department and wait there for an X-ray. After 20 minutes I had been called through and scanned and I was away. No apparent breaks and the need for me to be off it for two weeks (at least).

Had I taken my friends’ advice on social media I would have learned the same information but have needed to be in A+E, waiting for who knows how long (there would have been many people with priority over my sprained ankle) and in the middle of the night (missing out on sleep, which is also important). I understand where they’re coming from; an unexpected, emergency type situation, you would think “go to A&E”.

You hear stories about people who go to A&E for all manner of things, many of which are not appropriate. I would have felt bad if I had gone to A&E and filled a space which someone could have used for a more serious issue. Plus, by seeing the GP I was able to get in and out of the hospital much more quickly. It’s important to use the services available as appropriate; there are alternatives to A&E.

After a week, it became apparent that I wasn’t able to mobilise well enough to return to work (sorry Chris!) so I arranged to see the GP on the upcoming Monday to get a sick note. I booked an appointment online using GP Access and when Monday came I struggled my way to the GPs. Upon arriving and confirming my appointment with the receptionist I learned that I could have rung through for a sick note. I did not need an appointment or to be here at all, as the doctor who had seen me previously would know the situation.

Talking of taking personal responsibility it’s worth noting that there are 7,500 wasted GP appointments a month, just in the west of Leeds, so every single one is super important! Remember if you don’t need your appointment, cancel it so someone else can have it instead.

Although it was probably a good thing to be able to get out of the house, despite how taxing it was, it was a little annoying to know that I had taken up an appointment which someone else could have used for something as simple as just ringing through. I didn’t know the sick note policy, the last time I needed one was in 2012 and I had seen my GP at the time directly about that, whether I should have not was never said to me.

Going forward, I now know that I can get sick notes over the phone, in the same way I now know I can use the pharmacist as a first port of call. I even did this yesterday for a chest infection, which has helped some of the symptoms until I can see a GP.

I guess my point is that: it’s easy to know what we know, but until we know it, how can we possibly know? This is why the information campaigns from the NHS are important. At the same time, the NHS needs to ensure it does not assume information of people, whilst as users of the NHS we need to ensure we know the best way to use it. That way we can help make the NHS more efficient, ultimately saving it money.

I am super grateful for the care I received from the NHS over the last month or so (and I am very glad to be back at work too). I would also like to think that in terms of expenditure, I did a good job in being relatively cost effective, but there’s always room for improvement.

Adam Stewart

Engagement Officer, NHS Leeds West CCG