I AM 71. For the last couple of days, it felt as though I had something in my eye and, living alone, had no one to take a look to see.
As it happened, I had an appointment at my doctor’s surgery to have a blood sample taken, and so I asked the young lady phlebotomist if she wouldn’t mind taking a quick look at my eye to see if she could see the offending speck or eyelash or whatever.
Her response, polite as it was, was that she wasn’t a qualified nurse and so she wasn’t allowed to do that. She is qualified enough to stick a needle in my arm but not to look in my eye!
She said I should ask at reception to see if one of the doctors or practice nurses was free.
None of them was and in fact, the receptionist explained, that they would first ask me to consult a pharmacist (I don’t know why) so perhaps I should do that first and then, if they couldn’t help, I should then make an appointment to see my doctor.
For a possible speck of dust in my eye – and I was already right there in the surgery!
So I called into the chemist and told my story to the pharmacist. He condescended to look at my eye from a foot away, but he didn’t touch my eyelids or make any more of an in-depth examination than that. His response was I should consult an optician and see what they said!
I politely pointed out that in their day my parents were trained first aiders and it would have taken either one of them about 30 seconds to roll my eyelid back over a matchstick and see what the problem was.
(My mother is no longer with us and my father has dementia so asking them to look at my eye wasn’t an option). I was by now on my third person and still no further forward.
So I went a little further along the High Street to the opticians and told them the whole story – which of course was now getting longer for each visit and each time of telling.
Despite the fact that there was only one other person in the establishment, so they weren’t exactly rushed off their feet, the person who was dealing with me (and not very well as I was to discover) said they didn’t do emergency examinations and recommended I make an appointment with one of their competitors and the only branch she knew who did walk-in examinations was in the neighbouring town.
The only thing they could do was a regular eye examination and they didn’t have an appointment available until the end of the month! (that would have been two weeks later). I (again politely) pointed out that I could be blind by then – she nodded sagely – and I also mentioned about my first aider parents, but she obviously wasn’t impressed enough to make an exception based on how poor their services were looking.
With all of my options now used up, I remembered a friend who also used to be a first aider and drove the 30 minutes to their house. They took a look at my eye but couldn’t see any obvious offending object and recommended putting drops in as and when needed to see whether the problem cleared up in the next day or two.
If not then it would appear I will have no choice but to make an appointment with my doctor – typically that could involve a two-week wait – or the only other option would be to show up at A&E which would be total waste of their time and resources and seems a bit excessive anyway.
Sadly this sorry saga highlights what is becoming increasingly wrong with this country and it’s never going to get any better as long as people choose to hide behind bureaucracy rather than going the extra mile to be of assistance to others – and not because they have to but because they can.
We are now so bound up in the near-paranoia of health and safety regulations, our blame culture in which everything is always somebody else’s fault, and our compensation culture in which no one is willing anymore to do anything that could have an element of risk attached to it.
As I said earlier I’m 71, the same age as our National Health Service. At every stage in my fruitless circuit of healthcare professionals, I was left totally frustrated by the senselessness of the situation in which I found myself and the “more than my job’s worth” attitudes I ran up against at every turn. We don’t seem to be learning.
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.