Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A week in the life...

This is something I wrote in 1991, while I worked for the NHS in Manchester. I actually submitted it for publication in the Health Service Journal, but they lost it twice (or said they did) and I couldn't be bothered to follow it up. I haven't changed a word. Those were the days of dot matrix printers and long before mobile phones... how did we manage?


I arrive at work on time. Doctors, admin staff and patients alike are waiting on the path in the rain because Security have neglected to disable the alarm and open the building, but we are assured they are on their way. Two trips to the telephone box round the corner and they arrive to let us in.

My weekly phone call to the department clerk who deals with ordering. I have received order acknowledgements for two orders placed a month ago! One is for ribbons for two printers - it lists the wrong printers and both quantities are incorrect. The other is for floppy disks - both quantities and type of disks are wrong and the order acknowledgement is addressed to the wrong department. I am advised to add my corrections and send them back. These will probably be the only orders which will be delivered on time, before the corrections have reached Supplies. No sign of tissues ordered five months ago.

A breakthrough - we have taken possession of a kitchen made vacant by the relocation of some staff and patients. We no longer have to fill kettles or wash up mugs in the hand basin in the toilet. We "acquire" four armchairs, and wonder how to cover up the seat cushion of the one which has been wee'd on.

Otherwise a quiet day - the switchboard does not break down today.


The switchboard breaks down today. Despite threats and physical violence it does not cease emitting an unbearable whistle. The engineer is called: he is long retired and does BT a favour by servicing our exchange, since no current telephone engineer is trained in the obsolete mechanisms of our dinosaur. The box containing the fault is behind a large bookcase - we call the porters to move it.

My bin has not been emptied and the toilets have not been cleaned for four days. The cleaning supervisor tells us that the cleaners are refusing to come and clean our building since it is some way from the main hospital site and the nights are drawing in. She says that the post will be advertised and as soon as it is filled we can expect to be cleaned straight away.

We call the porters again. They tell us that our request for the bookcase to be moved does not directly relate to patient care and as such is not a priority. Our receptionist tells them that if she throws the switchboard out of the window, patient care will be compromised as emergency calls may become hard to make or receive. Eventually we persuade them that having an operational telephone system does directly relate to patient care.

The medical secretary due to start on Monday phones to say that on second thoughts she would prefer not to take the job. We prepare to go through a third round of interviews (nobody suitable could be chosen from the first round). The post has now been vacant for four months. Lets hope cleaners are easier to employ.


Both our clerical staff are ill. One phones from home, the other is in great pain but cannot leave the office until cover has been arranged by the main department's clerical staff, otherwise there would be nobody to answer the phone or man the reception area. Grudging cover is arranged and relief arrives at midday.

I turn up early for the departmental audit meeting. Unfortunately the meeting started 1/4 hour ago so I am late. I am told that it was decided at the last meeting - this is unlikely since I am the secretary of the meeting and I wrote the minutes.

A circular has arrived instructing us to monitor the length of time that patients wait for their appointments, for each appointment for each patient for a month. There is a form with a box for the booked time and a box for the time the appointment starts. There is no box for the time the patient arrives, nor for appointments where the patient does not turn up at all.

The empty house next door has been broken into for the second time in a week. I consider taking my computer home for the weekend. At 4pm I have to vacate my room anyway - a patient is seen there weekly because there are no spare rooms anywhere else.


I arrive at work early. I am met by a security man who demands to know whether I took my computer home. I admit that, worried about the building's security, I did in fact take the main body of my computer away, but not the monitor, keyboard and printer. He informs me that there has been a break-in and the monitor, keyboard and printer have therefore been stolen. I am upset, but glad that the programs and files are not lost, and since the value of the machine is over £1000 it is insured.

I phone our departmental clerk to chase the order which I placed five weeks ago for computer security cables to secure my machine to an immobile object. I find out that it has been lost and the items must be re-ordered from scratch.

I contact the finance department about claiming for the lost equipment under our insurance. They say that because the items stolen are worth less than £1000 we can make no insurance claim. I consider leaving the main computer body outside the front door, with a sign saying "You forgot this".

The switchboard breaks down again and will not whistle or ring even if there is an incoming call. One admin person has to sit next to it and watch for the switches to light up.


I receive costings for the purchase and installation of a local area network with five outlets, to be used for compiling a database to help with patient administration. This should relieve the Service Manager of the burden of writing out the waiting list by hand once a month. I ask everybody I know how to apply for authorization to spend £7000 on such a project. Nobody has the slightest idea. I wonder whether to hold a sweepstakes on the number of weeks we would retain possession of our computers, were we able to buy them.

Three filing cabinets arrive at the front door. The delivery men bring them into the waiting room: they say they cannot take them upstairs to the room where they are needed because their job is Delivering. We phone the porters.

A patient being seen in the room next to mine becomes very agitated and breaks a window. He gradually calms down and eventually agrees to be admitted to his local hospital which is not the one where I work. We call the non-emergency ambulance (emergency vehicles can only deliver patients to the nearest hospital), and a glazier. After an hour and a half we cancel the ambulance and call a taxi. The glazier has already been and has fixed the window.

I teach the last session of a six-week word processing course, which I have organised informally within the department. "This lesson will be largely theoretical," I say, "since you no longer have a computer to practise on". I contact the group who were going to start on a new course next week.

The telephone system has broken down again.


We phone the porters since our filing cabinets are still blocking the waiting room. They tell us that our request for the filing cabinets to be moved does not directly relate to patient care and as such is not a priority.


softinthehead said...

Oh My God - I am speechless, that is just too scary and very depressing, I don't like to ask if things are better or worse 17 years later.

Sparx said...

Holy cow... that is unbelievably shocking - no wonder they 'lost' it. You should try having that published elsewhere - are you still in the same field? Can you write a modern versin?

Lola said...

I was only employed by the NHS for two years, from 1991 to 1993. I have no idea if it's still like that, although my current university studies will take me back into the NHS in or around 2011. I've got a 4-week placement in August, though, so I'll let you know.

aims said...

I'm sorry Lola - but I laughed! I just couldn't help it. Excellent writing!

Heather said...

Just read this again and it's wonderful. Just had to say. xxxx