Firstly let me just give you a brief picture of my father. A management accountant before he retired, he was an extremely proud and independent man. He was quite shy and did not waste words but he was always there for his family and his friends when needed. His wife and family were his life and he really did want nothing more than to spend time with them and see them happy and settled.
In February 2011 my father died aged 79. During what can only be described as a 6 months from hell he went from a mobile and communicative man to a completely bed ridden, emaciated shell of his former self who was unable to communicate with us. Seeing him lose his self esteem and his will to live was the hardest thing I have ever had to witness and is something I would wish on no one.
During this time my father and my family were subjected to, well pretty much everything we hear about in the press in terms of his care. Yet the thing that would have made the biggest difference and prevented many of these failings would have been simply to listen, to us and to Dad.
Am I saying this to criticise the people who work within the NHS? Absolutely not! I am saying this because I learnt a lot during this very difficult time and I want to pass these learnings on. I myself had worked for 6 years in healthcare and I knew the pressures we all worked under but it was very different being on the other side of the service.
In the previous September dad had what the hospital thought was a stroke. He had suffered two strokes previously and had bounced back. This time though it was different, each day that we saw him he had deteriorated further.
We were being given conflicting information: a stroke, an infection, Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone Disease the list seemed to be added to each time someone spoke to us.
Daily we watched Dad deteriorate very rapidly, from an independent proud man to a confused husk of his former self.
We wanted a magic answer.
We wanted someone to talk to us and explain what was happening.
We wanted someone to take Dad’s hand and explain to him.
We wanted someone to relate to Dad like the proud person he was.
We wanted to know that Dad was getting the best care possible.
We wanted the world in the hospital to just stop for a minute so we could get off and see what lay ahead.
During the six-months following his last “episode” Dad was moved from ward to ward in hospital and was also cared for at home for a short period of time. Unfortunately the care Dad received in most of the wards was pretty awful. All of those things you read about in the media seemed to be coming true in front of our eyes. The care he received at home was horrendous and the lack of communication made this already difficult time even more distressing.
After we lost Dad, I was both heartbroken and angry.
Then, as I started to come to terms with my grief, I stepped back and looked at what had happened. I came to a realisation that every one of the health professionals that came into contact with Dad, and us, were doing the best they could with the internal and external resources they had available. Each of them cared and were working really hard, yet maybe they were being pulled apart by the ever changing goalposts they worked within? Maybe they did not know, or had lost touch, with how to communicate with dad and his family in a way that we understood? Maybe they did not feel they could stand back and look from that ‘fly on the wall’ perspective and recognise the impact of what was happening to Dad and those that cared so much about him? Maybe they didn’t have the support they needed?
It was then that my passion for helping those working within healthcare, social care and public health organisations formed. Now I am proud to see how our training and facilitation can really enable the healthcare professionals we work with to build their internal resources to protect themselves, enhance their enthusiasm for what they do and make a difference to patient care!
And I think Dad would approve!