This morning, I was in Guy's hospital getting my blood taken. In the pleasantly clean and warm hospital, I waited along with my fellow patients to be served. The Guy's team has devised a way to prevent the testing queue descending into the budget airline scramble for the best seats of yore. In an ode to efficiency, they used a cheese counter-like ticket machine to give everyone a number. You pick it and you get called. At least it should be that simple.
For any onlooker, there was a clear problem with their efficient solution. You needed to find the machine in the first place. One by one, the patients filed in from the lift to the right; and one by one, myself included, they stood outside the blood test door, lost. Of course, the other patients could have spoken up, but that would break the rules of schaudenfraude of being 'in the know' that each ticket wielding patient was due. After all, we had each taken our turn looking foolish, so we weren't about to deny anyone else (or ourselves) the mild amusement for a moment. After seemingly savouring the bemusement of the new patient, it fell upon the previous victim to the AWOL ticket machine to let the new patient know. This went on for each person in front of me.
Sat on my bench, watching this, my fellow patients and I readily saw what was the problem: there was a sign on the sliding door of the blood test office that clearly stated 'Please take a ticket from the machine behind this door'. This holy grail of patient efficiency, however, was thwarted by the fact that the door, which, if shut, would place the sign right in front of the oncoming lift refugees, was open. We discussed this flaw between us, commenting that if the sign was on the wall to the right of the door, then it wouldn't be missed. No more Takeshi's Castle-type riddle to find the machine. Another step forward for patients could be taken.
But that's just it. We had feedback to give, but where could we give it? Moreover, upon detailed examination of the sign, it was quite clear from the underlined 'Behind' which was written by itself in bold capitals, that this had exasperated a poor staff member before. But nothing had been done. Too busy? Probably. Putting another, more urgent, clinical need first? Probably. Will the sign continue its existence and minor causation of amusement for the blood-test queue? Probably.
As much as the NHS has a duty of care to its owners (us), we, through our ownership, have a duty of care to it. The best way to confer and deliver ownership is, in this case, the ability to give frank and clear feedback. Each interaction should be scrutinised with the desire that a supermarket retailer has to examine its own customers' interactions with itself. And health is more important than anything that can be bought at your local. While there is an alleged funding blackhole looming for the whole NHS, it is perhaps now, if not more so than ever, vital to remember that the NHS can only succeed with the stewardship and desire of both its staff and its patients. Although the NHS may last as long as there are folk with the faith to fight for it, a lack of service can cause even the most devout to question their conviction.
I hope that the sign at Guy's will be adjusted, much as the NHS adjusts to the challenges of an ageing and ever-demanding population. The health you are born with is not your choice. That's why we are proud of a system that provides for all our needs. But as crucial as funding is, it is nothing without output. The day something as small as a patient direction sign is correct, we will know that a sustainable service is there for long haul. I pray it is.