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Blog: Unhappy hospital holiday

Partners in Care
10 January 2020

Many of us have been or are still on holiday enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation. Despite the horrors of the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, the Australian fires, disturbing world events and, on a more local front, reports of hospitals under pressure we carry on living our lives the best we can.

I have worked in health (direct care roles and education) for many decades up until my most recent job promoting consumer engagement through my role at the Health Quality & Safety Commission. For eight years I have been listening to patient stories (some good, others not so good), promoting and supporting consumer voices in the health services and system and working with professionals and providers encouraging and guiding consumer engagement.

It is always with some trepidation that I go into hospital, visit the doctor, or visit a friend, whānau or colleague in hospital. I want to see the best care, the best nursing, the best communication, and the best service.

Over Christmas I went to visit a neighbour in hospital. It wasn’t the best. Many patients complain about lack of service over the holidays and weekends, poor communication, not being listened to and staff not showing kindness and compassion. Of these observations I find the latter most disturbing. Our Prime Minister values and speaks about the importance of kindness and compassion.

My neighbour didn’t complain, it was more a commentary, and reflections on the experience. Horrid pain that could not be controlled, mouth ulcers giving the impression she had had Botox, noisy visitors in a six-bedded dorm, several staying overnight; the patient repeating everything to new staff over and over again. Nothing happening, things being shut down, no one around able to make decisions.

It was distressing to see this. People need to go on holiday, including health professionals, but a skeleton should function to treat people in pain and assess, communicate and discuss options.

It’s better now. The doctor who saw the patient when she was admitted is back and was shocked to see the state she was in.
Gave her a hug and apologised, told the husband he was part of the team. Pain pump set up. Scan to assess where and why the pain is so bad. Treatment for fungal infection of the mouth (she can now take some nourishment orally). Husband bought heavy duty ear muffs so she could get some sleep (I’m not sure the ear muffs are going to be an enduring fashion accessory).

Most patients are forgiving and understand the pressures health services are under. It’s reported every day in the media. Maybe we can start with the simple art of kindness and compassion. It doesn’t cost a lot of money. For patients, whānau and friends having a hospital experience over the holidays and staff being kind, understanding and being compassionate is a big step to making any visit a better one.

We may not be the best, but we can be better.

I sent this blog to the neighbours and asked them to correct any inaccuracies or assumptions. They responded with ‘absolutely accurate. Just to prove me wrong this lovely young man is looking after me this afternoon and can’t do enough.’

Author: Dr Chris Walsh, Director – Partners in Care, Health Quality & Safety Commission