Complaining to the NHS

Now this is a tricky one.

We all love the NHS and where would we be without it. I remember defending it to the doctor at Yale who was decrying the evils of socialized medicine. Read: you don't make that much money out of it.

But being such a behemoth of a bureaucracy, it can fail and fail and fail...It could be the wrong type of surgeon operating on children's hearts or it might be letting someone acquire an infection while in hospital. Or it might be screwing up your appointments so you haven't a clue whether you are going to be examined this side of the 21st century or not.

My wrist has a touch of carpal tunnel syndrome. Why not? I'm an academic sitting in front of a computer everyday with a mouse permanently attached to my right hand.

I was to have ultrasound on February 26 when I received a letter from the imaging department at the hospital informing me:

Following your recent request to reschedule your appointment please find attached your new appointment date and time (none attached by the way).

I regret to inform you that the above appointment has been rescheduled. Please find attached your new appointment time and date (nope)

After discussions with our clinical team we've decided you don't need the tests and your appointment has been cancelled.

After discussions with our clinical team we've decided you need different tests.
I called being a little perplexed at what might happen to me to discover that they were interviewing for a job that day and had cancelled all the appointments. I was in luck: I could have one on August 3, only six months later. They seemed puzzled when I demurred. I wrote a letter of complaint:

Dear Ms Osborn

I am writing to remark somewhat critically on the performance of the imaging department in relation to my case.

On 12 February 2009 I received a letter regarding my appointment with your department. This letter is intelligible to a degree, but in a manner that causes one to scratch one’s head and think what kind of test am I being set here? And in case you wonder how it could be so I enclose a copy for you. It’s evidently a template letter, only this one, I imagine, in an attempt to be inclusive and helpful, includes every possibility.

One of them is bound to be right, I suppose. And one could ask does it matter which one? Not to the imaging department. I notice that you have thoughtfully placed a handwritten sticker on it with your name and the words, so carefully and attentively phrased for the bemused patient: “any queries contact…” How did you guess that there might be some? My feeling is that forward thinking in the imaging department is on the rise.

On pondering the letter, I guessed my best course of action—so many to choose from—would be to call the department. I was told it was a normal letter and that I shouldn’t bother with it. One wonders why you sent it. Still, the upshot of the letter which I wasn’t, even with my forensic powers of detection, able to detect was that my appointment had been cancelled. Resolution at last.

The reason was interesting as it seems it was because interviews were being held that day for a new member of the department and it was a case of tough luck patients. One can accept that with a resolute smile. I casually asked if the appointment was to be rescheduled. This question appeared to cause a flurry of activity among the booking clerks who felt able only to respond by having to call me back.

I waited with eager anticipation. The call came and the pronouncement was that I had been granted a new audience with the consultant on August 3. I admired the insouciance with which the new appointment was delivered. My feelings were mixed: was I to be happy? Was I to be disappointed? I found myself veering towards the latter. Inescapably towards the latter. Ineluctably towards the latter.

When I expressed my reservations at the long interval between the appointment I thought I had and the one I was about to have bestowed on me, I was met with the statement that’s it. My disappointment deepened, my despair was becoming evident to the imaging department booking section. My voice may have even cracked a little. I think they took sympathy on me. They passed me to a manager.

Imogen, for she was the manager, asked me all sorts of questions about what was happening and she was prescient enough to discover that I had another appointment in a different department related to the same condition and that I would be taking the results of both tests back to the doctor in the wrist department for his interpretation. This other test is set for March 2. So I believe it was abundantly clear to both of us that leaving your department's test to August 3, would not really cut the mustard. Imogen promised to investigate and call me back so that the imaging department could in effect make restitution for its error.

I have waited and waited but to no avail. Imogen never called. Anticipation gave way to despair again and I found myself languishing in the slough of despond. The imaging department had abandoned me in my hour of need.

Well, today is the day you held the interviews and I hope they went well. I’m sure you have appointed a corker of a new member. I might be lucky enough to meet him or her. But then I might not.

As you have no doubt guessed by now, I still don’t have an appointment. I imagine an airline cancelling a flight and saying to the passengers “Oh don’t worry, we’ll get you another one in 6 months time.” Their joy of course would be unalloyed. Maybe not.

So, Ms Osborn, I’m not a happy bunny at what I’ve encountered with the imaging department. But I believe there is a way you can raise my spirits again. Why not give me an appointment as soon as you can and as close to March 2 (my other test), so that I can move ahead in lightness and joy.

I await your response…..

Yours truly,

I'm still waiting.


This is brilliant, John. I am in awe! I hope it was almost worth it for the hilarious post, but I somehow doubt it.
John Flood said…
Thank you, Hopeful. Let's see what response I get!
PeterD said…
The Germans (who, to their sorrow, have had a long and painful history with their civil servants) have of course developed a whole vocabulary to deal with the genus. Thus, what you encountered is a good example of Beamtenmentalitæt. You must take care in how you utter your criticism lest you commit Beamtenbeleidigung -- the dread offense of insulting a civil servant in the course of her service!

As to why civil servants in the whole world, throughout history, behave thusly -- is that not worthy of major scholarship?