Beware social care

After Mum had spent three weeks in a medical ward at the Western General with a great deal of assiduous help to get her medically fit, she was advised that she was no longer a medical case – there was no more medical help they could offer – so they needed her bed back.

Fair enough. Doctors need to treat sick people. And the wards at the Western on which this is done, are relatively benign. The spaces are open and well set out, visitors are welcome and encouraged, there are things to do and people to see, variety of a sort in the scenery, and things to see out of the windows. Brave souls are allowed – nay, encouraged – to venture to the café’s on the ground floor, or even outside if the weather is clement, they have their zimmer and are warmly wrapped in the company of their sons and daughters, siblings… The care is thoughtful and optimistic, and the results are outstanding.

Then one morning a doctor visits and advises that yes, you are well enough to go home. But, since in a moment of caution, it has been suggested that a care plan is needed – though, in the event, my mother was deemed capable of managing most things independently, so her care plan was minimal – they would move her to another bed in another building until the care plan was in place. The caller who phoned from the medical ward to advise me of this situation indicated that this was “a step in the right direction” but was unwilling to say how long the stay on the new ward would be, though a murmur of two weeks escaped her reluctant lips.

Mother phoned immediately afterwards, in tears. She had a very different picture of her eventual destination. There I was, supposing a ward on the ground floor – nearer the exits – nearer the shops, nearer eventual normalisation. My mother’s advices abruptly put a stop to my delusions, and she asked me to visit her as soon as possible, and get her out of there, please…?

I visited the new ward the next day, armed with books, a few items of clothing. And found my eventual route to a building out of the way, at the back. Dark, approached through a narrow entrance with an air of abandonment, up two flights of winding stairs. I begged admittance to a locked ward, pleading my case past ‘protected mealtimes’ to a nurse on duty. The ward was a shock: tucked up in the eaves and back out of sight, away from any prospect of easy access to the outside world; no flowers, radios, tv noises, no internet access, no banter of relatives or friendly visitors. No views past the thick stone battlements; a single long, long corridor with business rooms off, and no-where to go.

My resolution hardened very quickly, and when Mum approached the orderly on duty to say, “I’d like to go home” I backed her to the hilt.

What is the point of an NHS treatment plan that gets people well, then shunts them sideways onto wards with nothing to do, no motivation, no reasonable prospect of access to the outside world? While it might not be intentional, the impression is inescapable that getting out of the ward at any time is discouraged, as are visitors, noise, or anything approaching intrusion. The message is clear: get well, stay well, and stay independent as long as you can.

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