Wednesday, 11 July 2007

A&E Webcam

Lincoln County Hospital's Accident and Emergency department has inched its way into the 21st century by setting up a web cam in its waiting area.

Not, you might think, the most gripping subject for a webcam. After all, folks in A&E waiting areas don't tend to do very much. Far from it, they sit around for hours, gnashing their teeth and grumbling about how long they've been there.

At first I thought the entertainment value might be in watching the staff dream up ever more baroque excuses for why, after waiting for 6 hours, little Johnny STILL hasn't been extricated from the chamber pot that's inexplicably stuck on his head. Or, perhaps, in watching doctors and nurses play, erm, doctors and nurses on quiet shifts.

Sadly, the truth is nowhere near as interesting, though it is every bit as strange. Apparently, prospective patients frequently telephone this A&E department before visiting, to get an idea of the current waiting time. Now, thanks to this wonder of the information age, they can hop on the web and see for themselves. Isn't technology marvellous?

Well, yes, of course it is. But I can't help wondering how many patients, having managed to mutilate themselves in the interests of DIY, for instance, will be in any state to surf the web. On the other hand, I am astounded to read that people bother to call the A&E department in advance, too. Of course, I understand their reluctance to visit a busy A&E department, knowing full well that they'll be there for hours - I've opted to handle minor injuries myself rather than endure the tedium of A&E on several occasions.

No, it's the concept of calling ahead that I don't understand. Unless you live pretty much next door to the hospital, it seems like an utterly pointless exercise; just because the department isn't busy when you speak to them, it doesn't follow that, by the time you've made your way there, that will still be the case.

The whole point of A&E is ACCIDENT and EMERGENCY - these things, by definition, are random, unpredictable and subject to constant change. The staff have no more idea of how busy they'll be in half an hour than you or I would have, and pestering them like that seems both pointless and thoughtless - they have enough to do without answering dumb questions.

That, I suppose, is the purpose of the new webcam, though I have to wonder how people will find out about it without calling the department first. Still, it's an interesting approach to a problem that wouldn't exist in the first place if people were a little more considerate, and I suppose congratulations for lateral thinking are in order.

Unfortunately, good as this idea may be, I suspect it might backfire a little on the Trust. There is a certain type of person who takes pleasure in viewing webcams from around the world, whether they feature some immensely beautiful natural spectacle or a street corner in a dismal village that nobody's ever heard of. These people are far more numerous than one might reasonably expect, and they WILL find their way to the A&E cam.

And what will they find when they get there? Probably that waiting times in A&E departments in Lincoln are depressingly long. I've been watching the cam for the past 30 minutes or so as I've been writing this post, and I've noticed that at least one guy (bald, in a white T shirt, though the cam is deliberately blurred so I can't make out his features) hasn't budged from his chair in all that time.

Unless they have a pressing reason to notice, such as being the poor bugger stuck there for hours, most people don't pay much attention to waiting times. But, when said waiting times - or at least the waiting areas - become the subject of international curiosity for 1000s of webcam watchers, it will be difficult for Trusts, and the Department of Health, to conceal the truth.

I very much doubt it was Lincoln County Hospital's intention to draw unwelcome attention to the unacceptably long waiting times in A&E, but, with this innovative solution to useless telephone queries, that is exactly what they have done and they should be applauded for it.

Billy Seggars.

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