Friday, November 27, 2009

A Buddhist in Basildon Hospital

Basildon Hospital is currently in the news, slammed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) following a recent unannounced inspection. I don't think there's a hospital in the country where an inspector wouldn't turn up a grubby curtain, a dusty bit of clinical kit, or a commode which - if you turned it upside down between normal commode-based operations - had a bit of something nasty stuck to an overlooked surface.

There was a time when novice student-nurses spent most of their working hours in the sluice-room, restoring filth-encrusted bits of sanitary hardware to pristine condition for another twelve-hourly cycle of careless degradation by sputum, urine, faeces, vomitus, purulent and bloodstained fluxes of all colours, consistencies and odours; and in various volumes, usually copious. Novices were hardly allowed to go near a patient during this three months of stomach-churning apprenticeship. Not until they had proved themselves in the sluice-room were they allowed to shake down a thermometer, or take a pulse.
Those days have long gone the way of seamed stockings, starched cuffs, cuban heels and the six-day week. But I digress.

I have a double stake in Basildon Hospital. I worked there as a nurse - a Senior Nursing Officer - from 1981 until 1988, so I'm very well acquainted with its layout, although it has otherwise changed out of almost all recognition, and I recognise no-one there now, nor am I recognised myself. I have been an in-patient on a couple of occasions, most recently last month where I was admitted as an emergency, fortunately one that was quickly and efficiently managed, so that I am now at home.

My own experience of the hospital was generally favourable, and the medical staff were courteous, conscientious and 'involving'. Every doctor I met (there were several) treated me as an adult, as an equal, so that I could engage collaboratively and felt safe. I was struck by the way medical management was systematised, and followed logical and (presumably) evidence-based protocols. Of course it helped that I am a nurse, and could ask the right questions. I was rather disappointed with the standard of nursing care, but that's something I may return to, in greater detail, another time.

There was a point during my recent spell in hospital where I needed advice from someone, on a matter that was not clinical (so that I didn't want to burden the nurses) but personal and practical. To be honest, I thought I might die. I had developed signs and symptoms very quickly, and they suggested a rapidly progressing brain disorder. Within eight hours I lost the ability to stand or walk, although I was rational, calm and relatively untroubled. I asked for a notebook and began to write notes that I thought might help my wife and family to wind up my affairs - about my bank account, pensions, work and so forth. To help me gather my thoughts I asked to see a member of the chaplaincy team.

Although I had 'registered' as a Buddhist on admission, no-one had mentioned it afterwards, and I told the nursing staff that I was happy to see anyone from chaplaincy, if they could spare the time. After an interval the nurse-in-charge told me that no-opne was available to see me until the following Monday (this was on Saturday afternoon). I was a little surprised, but not put out in any way. I know chaplains sometimes work 'on the front line' of sudden death and bereavement, so was willing to wait my turn.

As it happened, after an urgent brain scan it was decided that I was safe to discharge, if I could manage at home, to return after a few days for follow-up and further tests. I came home, relieved, to begin my recovery (which continues).

When I returned to the hospital a few days later I delivered a short hand-written note to the hospital reception desk, addressed to the head chaplain, enclosing a copy of RAFT which explained the basis of Buddhist spiritual care, and the Ananda Network. I asked if the chaplaincy would consider an offer from me of voluntary service to Buddhist patients, at their explicit request, and I offered to make myself available for any discussion or examination that might be proper. I mentioned that I am an existing Buddhist chaplain at an Essex hospital, and gave the name of the Lead Chaplain who was willing to give information about me on request.

Two weeks later I had received no ackowledgement or response. I therefore wrote another courteous letter of enquiry addressed to the Lead Chaplain, Rev William Ruddle, by name. I acknowledged that my original letter might have gone astray, or that a reply might have crossed in the post. I asked if I might have a response. If my suggestion was redundant, I asked if I might be reassured by being told what the current provision for Buddhist patients might be.

Two weeks later I have still had no response, so today I have lodged a formal complaint with the Trust's Patient Advisory and Liaison Service. I know that Buddhists don't take things personally, and I am not making this a personal issue; but I think something seems to be seriously wrong at Basildon Hospital, and I would like to be reassured that it is not as I suspect. If it is, I see it as a duty on me to help to put it right, not just at Basildon, but more widely across the NHS, if the need to do so exists.

Therefore my intention is, if necessary, to use the Freedom of Information Act (2000) to obtain comprehensive information from the Trust about the provision of chaplaincy services to people of various 'minority' faiths (including but not exclusively Buddhists) who are patients, relatives, friends or staff members at Basildon Hospital. We shall see how carefully the needs of seriously ill, dying or bereaved Buddhists, or their carers (amongst diverse others), have been considered under the religious ministry of Mr Ruddle, as I believe it is his duty as a public servant, and where - if at all - he needs to apply himself promptly to a remedy, if he is capable of doing so, and competent enough.

The Information Act is but one recourse I shall have to sorting this situation out. I have several others in mind. If you have any ideas, please let me know.

If you yourself are interested in supporting this initiative of mine, please let me know, so that we can put our heads together strategically, and make common cause of this important issue. I shall report further on what happens in due course. I have been promised a prompt response from PALS, and I think they mean what they say.