Friday, March 26, 2010

Poke me in the eye and call me Susan

Keen readers of this random collection of moans and musings will recall that I had an eye infection at Christmas. I was in Canada at the time, skiing at Whistler and determined not to let something so mundane spoil what was in all other respects the best holiday I've ever had. A local pharmacist gave me some eye drops that took away the worst of the symptoms, so all was fine.

Once I got home, though, I thought it only prudent to visit the doctor. The infection had abated, but had left a nasty lump of a stye on my upper eyelid that was both disfiguring and discomfiting. As is his way, the doctor stated the bleeding obvious - 'You've got a stye on your eyelid',  and gave me some ointment, admitting as he did so that it might not actually help the problem.

It didn't. All it did was make my eye all gummy, and left a horrible taste in the back of my throat about half an hour after I'd put it in. So two weeks later I went back to ask the doctor if he could refer me to the specialist at the hospital in Aberystwyth. It seems a bit of a faff, but that's the way things work around these parts.

Or don't work. I got a letter from the grandly titled Outpatient Appointment Centre about a week later informing me that the doctor had asked them to arrange an appointment to see the Consultant Opthalmologist. This letter didn't actually offer me an appointment. Instead it informed me that they would write to me again 'in due course' to give me details of my appointment.

I've been here before. It's one of those wonderful unintended consequences of our government's fondness for targets. All requests for an appointment must be responded to in a set time - I think it's five days or a week, but it could be a blue moon for all the good it does. You see, the target only stipulates that the request for an appointment be responded to within that time, not that an actual appointment be made. So instead of the Outpatient Appointment Centre sending me one letter after perhaps two weeks telling me to come see them in another month, I instead get a letter that is to all intents and purposes a waste of paper, stamps, time and money within a few days of the initial request going in and then... nothing.

It's been over a month since the letter, so today I phoned the Outpatients Appointment Centre to ask if there were any updates. This time a helpful fellow told me that the waiting time was currently running at around twelve weeks.

Cue intake of breath. The lump on my eyelid isn't getting any bigger, but neither is it getting any smaller. It blurs the vision in that eye, and feels like there's something stuck in there the whole time. I spend most of my time looking at computer screens these days, and it's beginning to give me headaches not being able to focus properly. I can't watch the telly for very long (not a big problem, except that the Sky+ box is rapidly filling up with unwatched episodes of True Blood) and even reading books is tiresome. I am a visual person, so this handicap is making me very grumpy indeed. Having to put up with this for another two months is not the kind of news I need right now.

But it gets worse. Helpful helpline operator (remember him?) then informed me that after twelve weeks I will be sent a letter asking me to get in touch with them to arrange an appointment.

What? The? Fuck?

I am perhaps a little spoiled. Many years ago, I had a similar problem with my eyelid and took it to my doctor in Fife. He looked at it for a while, said it was a stye that needed to be removed asap, picked up the phone and placed a call to Perth Royal Infirmary. They said they could see me straight away. I went in, the opthalmologist gave me a once over and then said he was going to carry out the procedure there and then. It's not pleasant, involving as it does the attachment of shiny stainless steel implements of torture that hold your eye open and stretch the eyelid. You get a local anaesthetic, but you can still see the scalpel approaching, and feel the tugging sensation as things are cut away. I had a shiner to be proud of, but I was walking out of the hospital less than six hours after first going to see my GP. Now it would appear that I have to wait twelve weeks before I can even make an appointment. That's what I call progress.

But what I can't understand, in my tiny little logical brain, is this. Why can't they book me an appointment now, even if it is for three months hence? My (NHS) dentist can book me a check-up appointment for August - he did when I went in for a filling about a month ago. Why do I have to wait twelve weeks for permission to approach the Outpatient Appointment Centre when they are far more likely to know when the doctor's going to be able to see me than I am?

I understand that NHS resources are finite, that I can't expect to be seen straight away every time. But what monstrous bureaucracy thinks it's more efficient to do things this way?* 

*I suspect it's the same monstrous bureaucracy that requires five different people from two different departments to sign off the paperwork before a £25 grant payment can be made. That was the point where I had to wash my hands of working for the civil service. The sooner someone gets in there with a broom to sweep away decades of the worst business practice imaginable, the better. But that's a rant for another day.



Anonymous norby said...

Ew, James, I don't like eyeballs. If you're going to discuss shiny metal objects being used on them or scalpels approaching them please warn me next time!

That being said-I hope your eye feels better soon-I had a stye once, my mother just made me hold hot compresses on it until it popped. Ick.

I've, um, had some bad eye experiences thanks to my parents. I'd rather not discuss it anymore...

March 27, 2010 3:36 am  

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