Doctors and nurses are fine – but NHS hospital food around here is ‘rotten’

Miller Ian and Joan

Ian and Joan Miller – “the treatment at the Beatson Unit in Glasgow was exceptional.”

By Bill Heaney

Nearly everything we have written about hospitals in The Democrat recently has reflected badly on the Health Board.

Most of the news stories have been about infections causing patient deaths and newly-launched inquiries to find out why this is (still) happening.

Then, we have people complaining all the time about waiting times and the threat of closure at Vale of Leven Hospital plus the inconvenience of having to travel to Paisley, Glasgow and Greenock for treatment.

The Health Board and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman have taken a battering in the media, but does the NHS really deserve all the bad publicity it receives?

Well, yes and no is the answer to that.

Or as the great Scottish footballer, Sir Kenny Dalglish, might say: “Maybes aye, maybes naw.”

It depends where you are coming from whether you have good things to say about NHS Scotland or not.

I am taking my evidence of this from the experiences of four people therefore – the Rev Ian Miller, who has served on health boards and healthcare trusts; Jackie Baillie MSP, who has been Labour’s health spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament from time to time and two cancer patients, Ian Miller’s wife, Joan, who has recovered, and Vale woman Margo Murphy, who is recovering at home in Alexandria from a procedure – and, inevitably it seems these days, a post op infection.

Ian and Joan Miller’s story is full of praise for the treatment which has brought a great deal of joy and relief to the family of the now retired minister of Bonhill Parish Church, whose books have been raising lots of money for the Beatson Unit.

I’ll let Ian tell the story he wrote at the beginning of this month:

For me and mine this is an important day … let me explain……

In the summer of 2013, Joan began to complain about a lump in her neck. “it’s nothing” she would say. Eventually she decided to seek medical advice.

After a battery of tests and investigations a tonsillar cancer was diagnosed. She then embarked on a punishing regime of radio and chemo therapy, the object of which was…. a cure.

The level of care she received was awesome. Ms Fiona McGregor, her surgeon, was assuring, kindly, compassionate and just inspired within us a feeling of confidence.

It is said by some that surgeons do not often exude personality and charm. I don’t believe that necessarily to be true but what I do know is that Fiona McGregor was the antithesis of such a stereotype.

She was ably supported by her clinical nurse Lesley Sabey, a charming girl. Joan and Lesley found that they had mutual friends and a shared love of dogs.

At all times the level of care and concern was second to none.
On the 26th December 2013 Joan embarked on a debilitating six weeks course of radio therapy.

So, for Monday – Friday we would leave Alexandria bound for the radiology unit at the Beatson in Glasgow for her 9am appointment.

Strangely enough there was a sort of camaraderie which developed among the fellow sufferers and it was not without humour.

There was also two course of chemo which took the feet from Joan and she spent some time in Ward B1, wonderfully cared for by Fiona Thompson, a Vale lass. Maybe it helped that I conducted her wedding service.

Into our lives at this dark time came Frances Campbell, again a lead clinic nurse who deals with head and neck cancers.

During a consultation with Joan at her lowest both physically and mentally Frances leaned over, took her hand and just said,
“what are we doing to you?”

It was one of those transcendent moments where a light shines in the darkest hour. I think part of me, at that moment just fell in love with Frances Campbell.
Later I was to discover Joan was the daughter of John Kelly. He was my buddy at the Vale Hospital, always there if I needed advice when I was involved with the hospital board.

John Kelly was a legend. That night I phoned John and Rosemary and said simply….
“ John, Joan is in the Beatson, I prayed that we might be spared this but God did not answer my prayer but what he did do was to send an angel, and that angel is your daughter.”

There was silence….
“John are you there? I said.
“I cannot speak” he said.

Emotion had taken over but there was a man so proud of his daughter.
On the 6th February 2014 the treatment was over. She was then looked after by some wonderful district nurses attached to Lomond practice in Alexandria and there was a very long slow climb back to what Joan had been before illness hit.

It was not easy and there were set backs, but five years later on this very day she is back to the lass I knew.

Jesus once said: “don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself or as Lena Martell would sing, “One day at a time.” I think Joan taught me that lesson. It’s all we have got.

Big smiles all round from Margo and Robert Murphy and (above) Cabinet Secretary Jeane Freeman and Jackie Baillie MSP.

Jackie Baillie’s view of the NHS is, of course, coloured by the fact that she is a politician who is not in government.

It is her job to find faults and failings in the services delivered and the money allocated to them, the staffing, the fabric of the hospital and health centres estate.

And to take the complaints of her constituents to the powers that be seeking remedies.

Time and again she has praise for the staff and the marvellous results they achieve in the face of austerity and unprecedented budget cuts.

For the man and the woman in the street’s point of view, I have spoken with Vale woman Margo Murphy who has recently been in the RAH in Paisley.

There’s an old Scottish saying that mony a meikle macks a muckle which loosely translates to a whole lot of small things soon mount up to make a big thing.

And the big thing about the hospitals in the Health Board area seems to be the quality of the food.

Social media is much criticised by officialdom and the political classes, but that’s mainly what they are doing, good or bad, is immediately out there in the public domain.

Margo’s first comment the RAH was: “Good morning, let’s have some breakfast is about right for the RAH because you will eat little all else in here for the rest of the day. You have to laugh.”

Well, you don’t have to laugh at all.  Patients and their relatives are allowed to complain.

They have been doing it quietly to one another for years but now they are calling these things out on Facebook and other social media sites. Between telling friends that she had had to return to hospital because she had picked up an infection the online conversations were mostly about food.

Michael Gettins asked her: “Do you need a Red Cross food parcel? Get well and get out soon!”

breakfast irishMargo admitted: “To be honest Michael, because of the infection, I’ve not really felt like eating much. I’m diabetic and they just don’t cater for diabetics. So my twiggy waistline might come back a bit lol.

“A fine example of Scottish cuisine of Pie Beans n cold chips is one of the culinary delights [here in the hospital].”

Alison Tipping replied: “It’s just as well you haven’t felt like eating or would of starved 😂😂.”

One great benefit of social media is that patients can communicate with other people in the same situation as themselves.

Mags Maurage posted: “That was like me and Bernie McDermott who were both in Queen Elizabeth at same time and messaging each other. Makes a difference if someone you know is in the same place xxx.”

Theresa Houston commented: “Oh the food was rotten in the Gartnavel but was absolutely vile in Glasgow Royal. I was in last year when the snow stopped all transport from getting visitors. Think I lost a few pounds then.”

Janice Hyslop replied: “Jeez oh, I can’t believe I didn’t know this, you poor wee sausages.  The help messages read – “Bring grub, no sugar and low carb, but a wee bit tasty.”

Anne Wilson said: “Well Margo I hope you get home soon and enjoy your own cooking, it won’t be long now every day is a step forward.

“The day after my heart attack It was scotch pie and chips on the hospital menu, very healthy indeed, it was like a brick 😄.”

Being part of this social media conversation – and Margo said she didn’t mind a bit so long as I made it clear that the medical and nursing treatment she received was second to none – was better than watching an episode of Casualty or Holby City on the TV.

Patricia Haynes said: “Margo, I must have been lucky when I was in [hospital]. The food was ok then.”

Violet-Ann Woods said she should bring Margo up a fish supper, but she replied: “I couldn’t eat it anyway Violet cos of this infection.”

Violet-Ann said: “Between hospitals yesterday, I actually stopped at the Hippy Chippy and bought a bag of chips, not done that for years, were definitely not as good as I remember.”

Marion Power said: “My family was bringing me in food when I was in Gartnavel, the woman in the bed across from me was getting brought carry out meals! Vile food.”

I have been a reporter for more than 50 years, so what did I learn from this wee survey?

Two things for a start – most patients like the doctors and love the nurses and appreciate all they do for them.

They cannot understand however that since the food in hospitals has been so bad for the past century or more and that patients are forever complaining about it, something hasn’t been done to rectify the situation.

If it’s of any comfort to anyone here, I was in hospital in Ireland a few years ago after having had a heart attack. The medical staff were wonderful – but the food there too was, as one of Margo’s pals said above “rotten”.

I am sorry Jeane Freeman, but that is the way things are – straight from the patients’ mouths. Perhaps a squint at social media might be more valuable than an expensive consultation?

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