Friday, 8 June 2007

Chariots of Fire

Hope Hospital, in Salford, Manchester, is not a particularly bad place, as hospitals go. Certainly, I have witnessed much worse standards of medical care than are on offer in this bustling establishment and, although it has its problems (what hospital doesn't!), at least some of the patients come out alive.

I am, however, more than a little concerned that this otherwise adequate hub of local healthcare has been infiltrated by the Health and Safety Gestapo. While the medical staff remain (largely) as helpful as ever, common sense appears to have been removed from the hospital's day-to-day running with surgical precision.

For those readers who have never visited this particular hospital, a little background information is probably in order. In common with just about every hospital I have ever visited, Hope appears to be in a perpetual state of rebuilding, expansion and development. I am sure there must be periods when part of it does not resemble a building site, but I have never witnessed one.

Despite this ever growing crop of new units, however, the heart of the hospital lies in a much older, and, I suspect, much more sturdily constructed building. Running from end to end of this venerable property, connecting the relatively new A+E / and Outpatients wing at one end, to the slightly newer and rather distant Elderly Care unit at the other, is the Main Corridor.

Known to those local residents old enough to understand the reference as the Burma Road, this broad, twisting, and above all LONG corridor is the throbbing, pulsating artery through which the hospital's life blood flows. At the busier times of the day this thorougfare is always teeming with people; medics, students, nurses, cleaners, porters, catering staff, inpatients, outpatients, and, I suspect, just the terminally lost run, stride, hobble and stagger their way along it in an ever shifting tide of humanity. Even in the middle of the night, the Main Corridor is far from deserted, although, in the small hours, traffic is mostly medics and the occasional frantic visitor summoned to the bedside of a deteriorating patient.

What, I hear you cry, is the point of all this corridor chatter? Well, until recently, wheelchairs were a major feature of the Burma Road. Nestling in shallow alcoves, or pushed unobtrusively against the wall, the less mobile patient or visitor was sure to find one with both great relief and very little difficulty. On many occasions I have commandeered one of these very welcome, if somewhat capricious, contraptions to help an elderly or infirm patient or visitor on their way.

Sadly, it appears that I will be doing so no more. A few weeks ago I went to collect an elderly gentleman at the end of a short stay in hospital. Knowing that he would find it difficult to walk all the way down the Main Corridor to the car park, I looked for a wheelchair and was amazed to find that there weren't any in evidence anywhere on this busy route.

Mystified, I collared a passing porter and asked him where they all were. "Ahhh, no mate. Can't keep em on the Main Corridor now. Health and Safety, see. Fire risk, they say," he said. "You go up in the lift to the next floor, you'll find some up there for sure." At the time, I was in too much of a hurry to do more than thank him and follow his advice. Sure enough, clusters of forlorn, unloved wheelchairs were dotted around, clearly neither use nor ornament. I grabbed one, went back down to the Main Corridor, and collected the old man.

It wasn't until later that the sheer stupidity of this situation began to dawn on me. Why put all those wheelchairs upstairs? Does management think that upper floors don't burn so easily? Surely not. But, if the chairs are a fire risk on the broad Main Corridor, aren't they an even bigger risk upstairs, clustered around in big groups where evacuating patients and staff might fall over them?

And then there's the sheer importance of the Main Corridor. If Hope Hospital catches fire, a fair number of fleeing individuals are going to be using that central route in their bid to remain unincinerated. Remember, this is a HOSPITAL, where they keep sick people until they stop being sick, or start being dead. Sick people do not move very quickly, particularly if they're elderly.

If you were of the elderly, sedentary persuasion, and you had the misfortune to be visiting the hospital (say as an outpatient) when it caught fire, would you want to a) hobble down the Main Corridor under your own steam and hope that was fast enough; or, b) sit in a wheelchair (even the one with the dodgy wheel) and let someone younger and stronger run like hell while pushing you to the exit? I rest my case.

On the subject of both resting and chairs, though not chairs with wheels, I notice that, at the point where the Main Corridor is joined by a smaller tributary corridor leading down to Maternity and, eventually, the car park, a small row of fold down chairs have been bolted to the wall under a sign helpfully inviting passers-by to take a rest. Whether this is a byproduct of the ongoing wheelchair absence I know not, but I was amused to note, between the invitation and the chairs, a rather more stern notice warning prospective resters that these chairs will only support people weighing up to 20 stones.

20 stones?? The damn things are hardly wider than a parcel shelf! How the hell do they think someone sufficiently voluminous to weigh 20 stones could even fit their backside on one, let alone sit down?

So, having taken away the wide, sturdy, plentiful wheelchairs that would be of most value to gravitationally challenged individuals (not to mention the kind of sick and lame people one would normally expect to find in a hospital), the powers that be have thoughtfully replaced them with a very few, distressingly static chairs that won't support their weight. Smart, aren't they?

Clearly, the Health and Safety Gestapo has gained a foothold in Hope hospital, a I fully expect to hear more of their lunacy in due course. I'll keep you informed!

Billy Seggars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post.