"ENT at the Royal Free - really disappointed"

About: Royal Free Hospital / Ear, Nose and Throat University College Hospital / General medicine

(as the patient),

A couple of years ago, I was taken ill with Epiglottitis, a swelling of the Epiglottis that can block the airways and is potentially very serious but also thankfully very rare, especially in adults. After an X-Ray at University College Hospital, the excellent Triage team there sensed something was wrong and I should go to see an ENT specialist immediately.

My throat was blocked so that I could not eat or drink and hadn't for nearly two days. I couldn't sleep either due to the pain and was very weak. I am very fit and had recently done a triathlon so had quite a high metabolism - the lack of nutrition and rest was eating away at my body.

I was blue lighted up to Royal Free in an ambulance and told I would be there for at least the night. I ended up being there for a week. I am sorry to say that my experience was not a good one for many different reasons that I feel could be remedied and I will try and outline these problems below.

First up, patients are people and I feel NHS employees should understand this. I'm not a wimp and have been through a lot in my life but on being bluelighted into a hospital, I was scared and I needed reassurance. I think someone should have done this and neither myself or my girlfriend got any detailed or realistic information on what was happening or my condition.

Hospital staff bustled around us, seemingly too busy to speak to us as we waited about three hours for a bed - were we waiting for a bed? We didn't know as no one told us. All it would have taken was a doctor, nurse or new patient liaison to sit down for five minutes with us and explain calmly and clearly what was happening.

I have very little experience of hospitals or the medical profession and this was the first night I had ever spent in a hospital. I found the lack of organisation and noise incredible. I was lucky enough to be put into a private room, but it was next to the nurse station and incredibly noisy. The noise was so loud I was unable to sleep and the door was constantly left open with little or no privacy. If I wasn't concerned for my life and incredibly weak, I would have walked out that first night.

The waste also seemed ridiculous - I have mild Asthma and don't really take any medication for it, but was brought ventolin and becotide every day. One of these inhalers would last a bad asthmatic a month. Why was I being brought one a day? It made no sense to me.

When I did begin to start eating after about five days, the food was terrible - really bad and unhealthy. There were things like spotted dick that I hadn't eaten since being a kid. I think the waste on medication could have been put to better use in the catering budget.

I found the nurses that cared for me not only uncaring but also very difficult to communicate with. The whole time I was in there I did not meet a single nurse that spoke good English (I assumed very few were English). I often found it difficult to make myself understood and I witnessed a lot of other patients being misunderstood. One night the nurse on night duty left a faulty canula in my arm which ballooned up because they did not understand me.

In my opinion, the doctors I came into contact with were also very poor communicators. I understand that this is a teaching hospital and again I did not meet a single doctor who spoke clear English. The main problem was there was no consistency of care or reassurance from them. They seemed very interested in my condition but not in me as a patient. At one point three doctors examined me with a more senior doctor who was showing them my rare condition. I recall that one of the doctors spoke to the others while looking into my throat, boasting about something, as though I didn't exist. The same doctor later told me that they may have to make a surgical hole in my throat if my condition did not improve, and I recall sensing that they communicated this in a way which felt as if they were full of glee about it.

I was in the hospital for seven days in total and I saw a different doctor, or doctors, every single day. Often their opinions were contradictory. Without fail, I would say every doctor I met was rude and curt, sometimes not even saying goodbye as they left the room. I think this displays a big problem across the board in the attitudes of doctors at the Royal Free which, unless things have changed dramatically in the last two years, needs to be looked into. As a patient I feel emotional as well as medical care from Doctors and Nurses is a major contributing factor in healing and making people well.

After four days I was told that I was being moved to a ward as my room was needed for another patient. I was given a mobile drip and wheeled down into the ward which seemed to me a place of mayhem rather than healing. After almost a week with no food or water I was so weak I could barely stand yet I was told there was no bed for me and I would have to wait. The other patients in the ward talked loudly and incessantly on mobile phones or to each other and one of them screamed and shouted at me to pick up his pen from the floor. I told him I was too weak and he began swearing at me. At this point I went to the private wing and demanded a room and a bed, thankfully it was covered by my medical insurance.

I have no idea if all hospitals are like this, if they are then I feel the NHS has a big problem. Patients are people – they need reassurance, care, peace and quiet, a bed, healthy food, communication. None of these things should be too much to ask. In addition, none of them should be out of grasp given some of the wastage and disorganisation I witnessed.

I would be more than happy to sit on a patients panel if my experiences could help to improve services for other people.

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Response from Julie Coombes, Communications Manager, Communications, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust We have made a change

Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. I am very sorry to hear that you were disappointed with the care and treatment you received at the Royal Free two years ago.

It is completely understandable that you were scared on arriving at the hospital and I am sorry that you didn’t receive the reassurance you needed, felt staff were uncaring and experienced poor communication. I am sorry that you found the hospital environment to be noisy and the food was unhealthy.

We have made significant changes over the last couple of years to improve our patient experience and have spent a lot of time listening to the views of patients and staff who told us about the quality of care they value, best practice in patient experience and what world class care means to them. In April 2012 we introduced our world class care programme which is designed to support our staff to provide a consistent culture of compassion, quality and personal responsibility and to deliver world class care to our patients every day.

Jenny Kenward, our patient experience manager, would be happy to meet with you and discuss your experiences further, provide you with more information about the changes we have made and invite you to become involved with our patient focus groups. Please contact Jenny at rfh.patientexperience@nhs.net

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