Belfast Telegraph

Why Dr Kate Granger is right that our hospitals need to take a more patient approach

By Jane Graham

When does a person cease to be a person and become a thing? Terminal cancer sufferer Dr Kate Granger found out from her hospital bed, where she was visited by a series of fellow professionals who forgot to say hello before they started poking and prodding her.

If they had met her at a lecture, or in the staff room, they would, of course, have introduced themselves, shaken hands with her, met her in the eye.

But those simple acts of respect and courtesy - perhaps the very least one might expect from a human being who is moving from stranger to acquaintance - didn't apply once she became a patient.

Patients - ostensibly weak, pathetic, vulnerable - are not expected to be sparkling raconteurs, high-ranking sportspeople, world record holders, experts on Dostoevsky. Their individual qualities dissolve in a melting pot of disease as they become biological mysteries to be resolved and ticked off.

Granger's disheartening experience has led her to launch a campaign entitled "Hello, my name is ..." Doctors, nurses, therapists, receptionists and porters in around 90 NHS organisations are backing the campaign, though how many of them are guilty of assaults on politeness and compassion we can't know.

Backing an unarguably worthy campaign is one thing; how one behaves outside of the public gaze is quite another. The support of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, under whose watch nurses and hospital doctors have increasingly struggled in understaffed wards, doesn't exactly fill you with relieved confidence. "Whew, Jeremy's onto it, panic over." No, I don't think so.

When she got cancer, Granger became one of the UK's Invisibles. Sounds like a cool bunch of superheroes; unfortunately, the reality is a tad less awesome.

Germaine Greer described the phenomenon beautifully on a recent Question Time, when she said she'd just turned 70, which made her, in current NHS vernacular, a likely bed-blocker.

One day, she envisioned, she'd be the owner of a set of hands, or a shoulder, or the top of a grey head shown on TV when news cameras travelled a hospital ward filming establishing shots.

I remember feeling exactly like this when I had my first baby. My three-day labour (not as bad as it sounds kids, don't let the self-aggrandising horror tales scare you too much) was regularly punctuated with visits from teaching midwives and their students.

My arm was routinely used as a prop for lessons on taking blood pressure, usually without my permission being sought, the ensuing activity being explained to me, or even an acknowledgement that the arm belonged to a living woman.

After three days of not sleeping, I began to wonder if it really was my arm, any more my property than that of the hospital staff. Maybe I was hovering above it all watching, and that pain, and deepening bruise, were figments of my delusional, confused brain.

When, towards the end, a midwife finally did look at my face and talked to me with kindness and curiosity, I burst into tears. I felt like I'd been brought back to life.

I wonder how it feels for those whose invisible status goes on not for days, but for many years. Parents of disabled children, or those with learning difficulties, who cannot get the establishment to recognise the towering challenges of their situation.

Full-time unpaid carers, who exist outside of society while they tend to needful family members. Lonely pensioners whose family have all died or moved away.

The increasing ruthlessness of this often proudly dog-eat-dog Britain offers little hope that things will only get better - in spite of Jeremy Hunt's loud, pain-free assurances to the contrary.

Losing faith with gene therapy critics

"Have you heard, they've developed a system which stops life-threatening diseases being passed on to children. It could mean long, healthy lives for kids who would once have lived short, painful lives, or not lived at all."

"Amazing! What a breakthrough! How does it work?"

"It's about using an extra DNA donor, replacing the genetic mutation with a healthy one."

"Wow, that is so ... Wait a minute. Did you say genetics? Interference? A third party?"


"Ah, no, I'd be against that. It's my principles, you see. We don't agree with that sort of thing."

"With healthy babies?"

"Yeah, it's a faith thing. Just leave it."

"Oaky doaky."

Greek hero bears some great gifts

The whining and counter-whining of our politicians in the run-up to the general election is already putting off voters, especially younger voters galvanised by the anti-politics of Team Russell Brand.

So the arrival of rock 'n' roll radical, Greece's new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, couldn't be more welcome.

It's not just that he came rocking up to Downing Street in a long leather coat, without a tie, making George Osborne look like a sneaky-bummed ventriloquist's dummy.

His bold demands for the EU to cut Greece, and its increasingly desperate, impoverished and, in some cases, suicidal people, some financial slack, made him look a giant among cowering beasties.

Belfast Telegraph


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