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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Forget the "looped Andrew Lansley" distraction

A lot of people are tweeting/commenting on the BBC story about health secretary Andrew Lansley's bedside propaganda campaign.  Yes it's a bit 1984 and yes, in Frimley Park Hospital at least you can turn off these screens without signing-up to a paid TV service.

I encountered the screens and Lansley at the back end of summer, when my wife had a stay in hospital after the birth of our son.  Like Winston Smith in Orwell's classic I hated the screen, then I found the "off" button.

I hated the rip-off costs to watch TV, then I started to think about the investment and engineering challenge in installing a bedside TV, phone and internet station in every bed, complying with all necessary health, safety and hygiene standards.

On that theme, the lady in the bed opposite noted her bedside light was broken.  She needed it during the night to feed her newborn.  To my outrage the midwife told her it would take 2-3 days for a new bulb to be installed.  "We used to keep a stash and do it ourselves, but they don't trust us with bulbs any more."

Some of the most competent medical staff in any hospital, trusted to deliver each and every one of us into the world and think quickly to deal with the range of possible complications, aren't trusted to screw-in a 20w light bulb.  A duly warranted FFS.

I was minded to drive to nearby Waitrose and buy the lady a bulb, but then I realised that's where her own husband should have stepped in!

But there's a lesson here, somewhere.  Getting a private company to invest in providing a non-essential but useful service like a bedside TV seems entirely reasonable.   You can take it or leave it, unlike light.  Besides, some people brought their own portable DVD and media players. (Fine, so long as it runs on batteries. Woe betide anyone who plugs in an unregistered power cord!)

Having time to kill and no alternative we ended up paying for the bedside TV service.  It was comparable to the cost of food and parking at the hospital.  The twist here is that, like the light bulb in the bed opposite, Emma's TV malfunctioned.  I called a service number from the attached phone and a technician came and fixed it within 30 minutes.

Not bad for £10 every 2 days, and, complainants should note, an average of £5 per day inclusive of internet is cheaper than many hotels.

(There is a serious censorship issue to note.  The "safe content" filter prevented access to many websites giving tips on breast feeding.  In a maternity ward!)

Clearly though something has gone wrong when a simple operation like changing a light bulb essential for the nigh time care of newborns takes 2-3 days.  I assumed at the time a private maintenance company was involved - I could think of no other reason for prohibiting the people we trust with the lives of our newborns from safely changing a light bulb.

So this is perhaps a tale of good private involvement, bringing investment in new services, and bad private involvement, profiteering from a simple household job millions of us perform safely each year in our own homes.

Incidentally it took 3 days to fix a broken tap on the ward.  Other than that I couldn't fault the medical care and attention from all the fantastic staff on the delivery suite and maternity ward.



  1. "I could think of no other reason for prohibiting the people we trust with the lives of our newborns from safely changing a light bulb."

    Really? The nurse changing the bulb shoves her finger in the socket, gets burnt and sues the NHS for £800K Welcome to the real world.

  2. Simple solution: Hospitals should mandate that certain equipment is user-maintainable when writing tender documents. Suppliers then simply ensure light bulbs are 12V or 24V, so that they can be changed by untrained staff.

  3. But lets get this in perspective. Any nurse changing a light bulb is surely more likely to die getting to and from work than through "shoving her finger in the socket" as noted above.

    According to the Office for National Statistics there were 29 deaths from electrocution in 2009, of which 5 involved high voltage transmission lines, so no more than 24 involved mains current.

    Not such a high casualty rate for something so prevalent. We all change light bulbs at home, same risk of death or injury as at home?

    By contrast there were well over 2,000 road deaths the same year. So the hazards from our everyday use of electricity are approx 100th the hazards from our everyday use of roads.

    And the 24 deaths isn't taking into account stupidity and curiosity (people doing clearly dangerous things with electricity rather than changing a bulb).


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