"Visiting A&E at Northern General Hospital"

About: Northern General Hospital Royal Hallamshire Hospital Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust

(as the patient),

I admitted myself to A&E after collapsing and waking up several hours later with no memory of what had happened. This has happened a couple times recently, but my GP had offered no opinion on the matter other than "heart problems" and told me to get an ECG; to date, we still have no idea what's causing this. Naturally, I was worried about passing out for no apparent reason, and even more concerned by the inexplicable memory loss, so I took myself to hospital to get myself checked out.

I ended up going to the wrong place, due to my lack of local knowledge - I'm still relatively new to Sheffield, and didn't know Royal Hallamshire couldn't provide this sort of A&E care. Despite my error, the staff at Royal Hallamshire were very kind and helpful, did a couple of tests anyway to make sure my ECG and blood sugar were normal - which they were - and sent me on my way to Northern General, in an ambulance. The ambulance team were very friendly and reassuring, which was a big relief as I've had some negative experiences with short-tempered EMTs before and was nervous that I might be told off for going to the wrong hospital. They brought me to A&E, walked me to my bed and made sure I was comfortable before they left.

I was seen by a young doctor who, frankly, I felt intimidated by. I told them the same information I had told the previous doctors and nurses, but unlike the others, this doctor seemed skeptical rather than sympathetic - like I wasn't telling the truth, or was leaving something out. They were particularly hostile about my memory loss - I had to repeatedly remind them that I have no recollection of what happened prior to waking up in a heap on the floor, as they seemed to be taking my speculations of what I *might* have been doing before I collapsed as "proof" that I actually *did* remember. They remarked how it's unusual to have "so many problems at my age" when I gave my medical history - as if young disabled people don't exist. This doctor totally dismissed my disclosure that I have learning difficulties, including autism, which made me feel frustrated and helpless - like I couldn't properly communicate with them.

When I asked if my collapse could have been caused by something like a seizure - I had a relative who died of her first and only epileptic seizure, so naturally I was scared I might have something similar - they explained how unlikely this was, but in a way which I felt was dismissive and patronising - I may not be a doctor, but I like to know what's going on when I'm receiving medical care, and would prefer not to be treated like a hypochondriac if I ask questions or offer information that I think might be relevant.

I waited for a couple of hours before a medical student arrived to take some blood for tests. I didn't mind the idea of being treated by a student, but this person was a visibly nervous - slightly unsettling, considering they were wielding a big needle - and when they left, I noticed that they'd forgotten to take the tourniquet. I was rather disturbed when I noticed there were dried blood stains on it - surely this isn't very sanitary, considering that the person whose blood it is could have had a blood-transmitted illness, and that it would be placed next to an open wound on someone else's arm? I put it to one side and decided to give it to the doctor I saw.

Several more hours passed, during which I struggled to keep myself awake, waiting for someone to tell me what was happening. A nurse finally came to ask me for a urine sample. When I got up, put my shoes on and began to walk towards the toilets, they stopped me and in a frustrated tone of voice, told me to collect the rest of my things as I would be waiting elsewhere for my test results - despite the fact that they hadn't mentioned this before. I was too tired to say anything in complaint, so I simply collected my things and limped my way to the toilets, struggling to provide a sample having not had anything to drink since before I arrived. I then asked for directions to where I was meant to be waiting for my blood tests, as nobody had told me where I should be going next; the nurse grudgingly offered to take me to the waiting area.

I briefly spoke to the doctor on my way past, giving them the tourniquet their colleague had left behind. They remarked that it "wasn't theirs", as if I was supposed to go and find the forgetful student who it belonged to and give it to them instead, but took it from me anyway. No sign of a "thank you". No mention of the blood stains. I shouldn't have bothered.

I then waited in a small seating area in the corner of one of the wards, next to a couple of other patients and a pair of police officers. On the chair between me and one of the officers was a cardboard urine sample pot, full with stinking urine and seemingly forgotten by the staff. After about half an hour, the police officers got fed up and asked one of the nurses to remove it, which they did, but quite why it was sitting there in the waiting area in the first place is beyond me; it was not only unsanitary and a potential health risk, but also degrading for the people who had to sit next to it - you may as well have asked us to pick up our chairs and go wait in one of the toilets.

Eventually I was given the results of my tests - all normal, though I have no idea what they were testing for, as nobody would tell me - and assured that the doctor would write to my GP on my behalf to ask that I be referred to a specialist for yet more tests, as they couldn't confirm from my trip to A&E what was causing me to collapse or lose my memory.

I was at Northern General for at least 6-7 hours. I don't mind the fact that I was waiting for so long, as I was not a priority patient, and I appreciate the need for staff to deal with more urgent cases before mine, but what I wasn't happy with was the lack of information given to me about what was going on - for the majority of my time in A&E, I had no idea what was happening, who was responsible for my care, where I should be staying (or going), what I was being tested for, and what would be happening next. I wasn't even offered so much as a glass of water, let alone information, and at times I wondered if they had forgotten all about me, just like they had forgotten about the urine sample in the waiting room.

Knowing I had come to hospital alone by ambulance and that I was not familiar with the area, it would have been appropriate for someone to at least try to point me in the general direction of a bus stop or taxi rank, instead of leaving an unwell, sleep-deprived disabled girl with learning difficulties to fend for herself in an unfamiliar part of town. I had trouble finding my way home, as I was pretty much wandering aimlessly until I found my bearings, with very little energy left at this point having not had anything to eat or drink in nearly 12 hours. In fact, I'm surprised I made it home in one piece.

In short, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with the idea of having to come back here again - this A&E department certainly seems like it could be more organised, and I felt that the staff who treated me didn't seem to give a damn what happened to me once I was out the door. I also think the staff would benefit from some sensitivity training, particularly when it comes to looking after patients with learning difficulties.

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Response from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to tell us about your recent experience at our A&E department. The feedback we receive is extremely valauble to us, in order to tell us what we are getting right, and where we can make improvements. We are very sorry to hear that our staff didn't keep you informed during your visit, and that you felt some members of the team were dismissive of your concerns.

We would be grateful if you would give us the opportunity to look into your concerns and provide you with a response. In order to do this please contact our Patient Services Team on 0114 271 2400, alternatively the team can be contacted via email at PST@sth.nhs.uk