Posts Tagged ‘Kafkaesque’

Choose and Book, part III

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Now where was I? Ah yes, I was going to tell you all about what happened when I rang the Choose and Book helpline, to see if they could give me an appointment. I’m sure you can guess the answer. I spoke to a delightful young lady, who tried to book me an appointment. She too came up against the same problem: no appointments available. Trying not to vent my frustration on her, I asked if it would be possible for someone to just send me an appointment, as I wasn’t really that fussed about Choosing and Booking it myself. OK, she said, in that case, what you need to do is this: ignore the next letter we send you, and the one we send you after that. Once you’ve ignored those two letters someone will get in touch and send you an appointment. I found this rather peculiar and queried it; she was adamant – ignore the letters, then you’ll get an appointment. She did point out that this could take a while – the first letter would be sent out after a month, the next one even later. I wasn’t too worried about having to wait as long as I got an appointment, so I decided to forget about it until I’d received the letters.
At least some of what she had told me was true – I did eventually receive both letters, which urged me to go online and Choose and Book my appointment. I ignored them, happiily thinking that before long I would get a letter telling me where and when I needed to present myself. Of course this never happened, and eventually I decided to do what I probably should have done right from the beginning: I rang my GP practice. After all, when they sent me through the details of how to Choose and Book they also gave a number and said ‘If you have any problems Choosing and Booking your appointment, please give us a call’, so I did. I explained to the secretary who took the call what had happened, and she said ‘OK then, I’ll fax it through for you’. Fax. You read that right. After all the time and money that had been put into building a modern online booking system, what was actually going to make the difference was a form of communication that ought to have disappeared around the turn of the century. Sure enough, a few days later I got a letter from UCH with an appointment. You might think that this would be the end of the story, but there was more madness to come.

Choose and Book, part II

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that I have nothing but praise for the people who work at the sharp end of the NHS – I wouldn’t want people to get the wrong idea. So having said that, I’ll pick up where I left off…
My GP asked me which hospital I would like to go to for the gastroscopy – The Whittington (my local hospital), UCH, The Royal Free – which would I prefer? If I’d had my wits about me, or better still had I read one of M.D.’s columns in Private Eye in the waiting room, I would have asked him all sorts of stuff about clinical outcomes and how many procedures each unit carried out a year. As it was, I made my choice based on convenience – it would be easiest to get to UCH for the appointment as it is close to where I work. I was also swayed emotionally towards UCH as I happen to have been born there. My G.P. put the necessary details into his PC and printed out the details of how I could Choose and Book my appointment. Being somewhat geeky, I thought this was rather cool – log on, log in and book – what could be simpler? More fool me. That evening I tried to Choose and Book my appointment. No problem logging in, but when I clicked on the link to see the available appointment times, I got a message saying ‘There are no appointments available at the moment, please try again later’ or words to that effect. Which seemed odd – I didn’t expect to be offered an appointment the next day, but I did expect to be offered an appointment. I tried again the next day, and the same thing happened – no appointments available. At this point, patience not being one of my strong suits, I started to get annoyed. I realised that I wasn’t actually that fussed about which hospital I went to, or about being able to choose a time- all I really wanted was to have an appointment. In fact, I would have preffered just to have recieved a letter saying ‘Your appointment is at hospital X on day Y at time Z’. I had a look at the documentation and saw that there was an 08 helpine number, so I decided to give them a call and see if I could get an appointment that way. At this point, things began to get distinctly Kafkaesque…

Choose and Book, part I

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I expect this is going to take me a while to complete, and will probably come in several instalments. It’s too long a story to be able to tell it all in one go. Eventually, I hope it will form the majority of a letter I plan to send to Lord Darzi about the madness that is the NHS Choose and Book system.
Choose and Book is, in my experience, the most inaccurately named system in the known universe. It enables you neither to choose nor book an appointment. Here’s a brief history of my interaction with it.
I have suffered with gastric problems since sometime around 2001 – nothing life-threatening, just bad reflux apparently brought on by stress. “Big deal”, I hear you cry, “you’re not the only one”. Amen to that. At first I just more or less ignored it, then I started trying to minimise it by avoiding things that I could be fairly sure would exacerbate it. Pizza was the first thing to go, after I woke up at 3am in agony following a pizza dinner. Lager was the next thing on the list, followed by champagne and sparkling wine – I ended up only drinking white wine, thinking I’d be safe with that. It would be a long time before I discovered that I wasn’t, but that’s a much later part of the story. Sadly, I wasn’t able to give up the biggest stress factor – working.
At some point I started waking up feeling like I’d had five pints of lager the previous night when I’d had nothing at all to drink, which is when I decided to go and see my GP. He prescribed some Losec (omeprazole) and told me to try and relax a bit. He also gave me a test for Helicobacter, which came back negative. After a month’s course of Losec I was feeling much better, but a few months later the symptoms began to reappear so it was back to the GP for another course of Losec and another (negative) Helicobacter test. Inevitably this only kept things under control for a few months, so I went to the doctor once more. This time I saw a different GP, who decided to refer me for a gastroscopy, which is where my Choose and Book odyssey began…
More anon.