Disgruntled staff, non-appearing test results and a consultant with a world-class attitude problem – Andy Cowper tells a true story with a sting in the tail 

We had been sat in the hospital waiting room, using it for its nominated purpose for a quarter of an hour beyond the appointment time of my relative’s outpatient appointment (without any explanation, let alone apology for the late running), when a couple of nurses walked in in their working uniforms, name badges on, and sat down.

Immediately, it was clear that this was a venting session.

“There’s just no discussion. I’m left on my own with no warning, yet again. I have to ask ‘Colleague X’ whether she’s staying on. There’s no fallback. The past couple of nights, she way staying on till nine to work with me, unscheduled. Till well gone nine at night.

“We’ve told them. Again and again. And nothing changes. They’ve had months to sort this rota out. It’s not our problem. They’re leaving us stuck with it, well: what the hell. It’s their problem this weekend. Let them sort it out.”

At on level, when you’re bored and waiting, this is a mixture of light entertainment and an insight into how well – or badly – a system is working.

To describe the consultant’s responses to us as patronising would be generous. They were un-self-aware, and frankly bordering on the obnoxious.

But when you’re there with a family member, who needs to know whether their post-operative pathology shows up a problem, you give a fair amount less of a flying one about all that. 

As I was by that point doing.

The nurses’ dialogue of complaint carried on in that vein for several minutes, regardless to the increasingly full waiting room of patients. Gradually, several patients who arrived after us were called to be seen by the same consultant before us.

At this point, being now well over 20 minutes past our appointment time, my relative walked back to the reception desk to ask why the appointment was running so late.

“We have no information” came the reply. “It isn’t within our control”. As you’ll imagine, that lifted both of our moods thoroughly ahead of receiving a planned clinical diagnostic result on whether there were any underlying pathology.

Forty-five minutes came and went beyond the stated appointment time. Eventually, a patronising smile came round the corner, shortly followed by its owner, to invite us into the appointment.

As we got into the consulting room, the consultant said casually “I haven’t had the test results: have you had them?”

“WHAT?” was my relative’s entirely reasonable response.

The consultant tried hard to appear unflustered. “I haven’t got the results – the operation was three weeks ago, wasn’t it? I’ll just call my secretary”.

The gap between this consultant’s insouciance and our concern about the lack of medical results showing the outcome and prognosis was not something that the consultant could easily understand.

Which the consultant did, apologising to the secretary for calling on their personal phone out of hours (which it would not have been, had the appointment run to time). The consultant asked about the pathology results, and whether they had been faxed through. They had not. (‘I should have checked”, his secretary audibly said over the mobile phone.)

At this point, the consultant seemed to seek to shift the blame onto my relative and me: “Why are you anxious and worried about this? I’m not worried.” 

The gap between this consultant’s insouciance and our concern about the lack of medical results showing the outcome and prognosis was not something that the consultant could easily understand.

Our delight that this consultant was not personally worried about these absent pathology results was slightly tempered by the evident lack of systems in place to check whether such critical pathology reports had been received, such that the system could function properly for him and for his patients.

That didn’t seem to be important.

We didn’t seem to be important.

A dialogue then followed (which I would describe as interesting had it not in fact been unnecessarily lengthy and profoundly dull), during which it was necessary for us to repeatedly inform this consultant that if he and his team did not have the pathology results to conduct his outpatient appointment, they should have systems in place to cancel them to avoid the waste of thier own time and of patients’ time.

To describe the consultant’s responses to us as patronising would be generous. They were un-self-aware, and frankly bordering on the obnoxious.

On the third time of our repetition of the same point, the consultant appeared to accept that it might be advantageous for the systems used to be aware 24 hours in advance of such appointments whether this diagnostic results were available.

(You wouldn’t like to think this conversation were even necessary, but by goodness, it was.)

So we left, with a great deal of our time pointlessly wasted, and without the diagnostic results required to work out whether further treatment for my relative would be required. And we left with absolutely no certainty about when those results would come.

I would be wholly depressed if this had happened in the NHS.

This happened 100 per cent in the private sector.

Andy Cowper is comment editor of HSJ