I’ve just finished three days volunteering at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital – including modelling a pink fluffy dressing gown in the hospital shop for a patient, Jenny, in a wheelchair.
Of the public services we all use one is different - the hospital.
From maternity ward through paediatric checks, blood tests, A&E or cancer issues to strokes, heart attacks and old age related illnesses, or just to visit friends and family - we all go to the GRH. And whereas we have over 40 primary schools and a dozen secondary schools, many different bus routes and more than a dozen care homes there’s only one hospital. We all care passionately about our GRH.
Of course nothing is perfect. When a loo or ward is dirty, an elderly patient not well looked after, or even misdiagnosed, my constituents often let me know.
I make sure complaints are dealt with, champion those who got a rough deal, and hold our hospital, NHS and government to account. But since few constituents write with good news an MP can get a distorted view. So three years ago I decided to volunteer at the GRH and get my own feel, and have gone back every year since.
I started with red shirted volunteers Lyn and Chris on ward 9B, which is for older patients. Lyn, an ex-nurse herself in Zimbabwe, taught me hospital corners on bed making. I cleaned under the beds, took lunches to patients and did my modelling for Jenny who wanted a dressing gown. I suspect she’s still laughing.
But above all I saw the dedicated teamwork in the ward for patients, some of whom have dementia. One very positive development since last year is that some volunteers have been trained to help feed patients, saving nurses hours of time.
On the second day I was with Ann on Tower Reception, in the ACUA Acute Ward with consultant Pippa and on Atrium Reception with Iris and others. The volunteers have the time to steer patients and visitors to the right place, sorting a hundred little problems. They all have their own stories and reasons for helping, getting lots out of putting so much into volunteering.
It can be very satisfying. Like cleaning and preparing a room with Stacey and Avril for two people whose mother was about to die, in case they needed to stay the night. Or when Social care worker Becky came to tell us about a patient who’d run out of breath outside the hospital. I took a wheelchair to help him, but needed more coins in his meter to avoid a certain parking fine. An angel in Beacon House helped me change his note. After sorting out his parking I got him to the lung team on time. His experience that day could otherwise have been very different.
My last day was with Stephanie in MDU, a newish unit that does tests and injections, some for regular patients who come and go. I was on tea trolley and messenger duties, taking notes and files to Pharmacy and other wards, getting more meals, washing up and serving patients. A hot drink helps calm a stressed patient or companion, even when one person wanting hot chocolate got bovril. I suspect in MDU too they all had a good laugh after I left, probably led by Trudi.
Of course it’s nice to surprise people who have pre conceived ideas about what MPs do and don’t imagine cleaning in a hospital ward is one of them. But it’s seeing all the staff in action, knowing how busy they are, and hearing patients unprompted say “they’ve saved my life” or “they look after us so well” that gives me the balanced view.
How precious is this great healing and caring link with every household in the city?
One nurse from overseas said to me: “In my country we can only dream of having a GRH.”
I may be biased because my father, like many in the stroke ward, was magnificently treated and his life would not be the same today without that. I sense we’re luckier than we know, and should be proud, and grateful.
Do send me your views on firstname.lastname@example.org