Saturday, 2 October 2010

Harmony Breaks In Again

“Harmony” first broke into my life way back in May, at the start of all this, when I first came out of hospital and needed a district nurse – and couldn’t easily get one. I did get one eventually, but she was called a “community nurse,” didn’t have a uniform, instead she sported a great fat bosom sticking out of a silk blouse, and came with a capacious bag full of equipment. She took over an hour to apply one dressing as she had been given no information about what was needed and had to rummage through so much to find the right size.

I am still not sure where the “Harmony” bits come in, I thought it was the name of a nursing agency which was obviously out of control, but I now discover that those nurses from Ealing and Acton are part of the Primary Care Trust and “Harmony” is just their call center.

On Wed 29th Sept in the chemo clinic, Nurse Eileen made a referral by phone for me to have three injections, on 30th, 1st and 2nd at 5pm to increase my blood count to prevent an infection.

I was with her when this was done and felt slightly nervous. I asked for the nurses’ number, just in case, but she quite blithely said it would all be OK, she had fixed it.

5pm was OK by me – I would have to miss an invite to supper with a friend, but I would be able to make it to meet her at the Jermyn Theatre in the West End by 7.30pm. We were going to the first night of If So, Then Yes, a new play by N.F Simpson, who is 91 and hasn’t had a new play on since 1972.

Thursday 30th 5pm. No nurse in view. I had some how expected this. At 5.15 I rang the Acton Vale surgery and happily there was a receptionist who kindly called the Harmony call centre. I also called Clio and the Harmony people myself. I got the bad news that the nurses changed over from day shirt to “twighlight” at 5pm. I knew this was bad news. Harmony knew nothing about the referral and said the night nurses had no information either. They suggested I should call my doctor back and go there for the injection. I called the surgery again, but my doctor and his practice nurse had gone. I called Harmony again and the injection was then arranged for later that evening.

The hours ticked away. I could not ring my friend at the theatre as she doesn’t carry a mobile. Two nurses arrived at 9.30pm one bustling and black the other lethargic and Irish. “I can see you’re a bit stressed,” she said. I was even more so when the black nurse told me they were not authorised to give the injection as I had, “no letter.”

Feeling all those microscopic cancer cells creeping back and opening out like jelly fish with all this stress, I said, “I must have that injection.” They tried to call out a Dr Raj. We sat and waited and the Irish nurse told me about her beagle puppy which kept breaking out and leaping her fence. He is apparently locked up in her home all day and bored to death.

Doctor Raj was not available, so in the end I gave myself the injection while they watched.

All friends by now, they assured me they would give information back to the community nurses on the day shift about what had happened. I wondered how I was going to get these injections at different times, or if they would all have to be this late, which would mean cancelling more plans. I could not see that I would be able to get them in the mornings and evenings, that would be far too complicated.

On Friday 1st just after 10am I got a call from Harmony, someone speaking in the most harmonious voice imaginable, with an almost forced joyfulness, saying they had just received a referral for me that morning, and a nurse would soon be arranged.

I explained what had happened and the woman on the phone said they had received no previous referral, no phone calls at all, from me, Clio or the doctor’s receptionist. They said the nurses from the previous evening had not contacted anyone either.

They said that if I had a problem I would have to call the nurses myself directly, but then said they could not give out any of their numbers. Nurse Clio also had this problem when she tried to contact them.

I again called your receptionist and Clio, who phoned Harmony again. I was told by a nurse that she had seen the original referral, and put a note by it on her computer for someone to pick it up. She was very vague about what had happened to it then. Later in the day I got a call from Harmony, from someone called Alex, who called herself “the supervisor,” Which is apparently not her job title.

She said that the problem was that the day time nurses “were already on their team visits” when the original referral arrived. “I don’t know why you are upset, your doctor should have sent this referral three days ago,” she said. So that put me in my place – the place of a bald headed, stressed out chemo patient who should shut up and disappear.

After they’d gone my friend who I’d missed at the theatre rang me, not cross at all. She’d been with a doctor friend of hers. “As soon as you didn’t show up we looked at each other,” she said, “and both said, “the nurse hasn’t come.”

The play, was apparently excellent and very funny. N.F Simpson was actually there in the audience! I would love to have seen him, with his impish face and bushy white beard. Oh well, nothing can be done and it could have been worse.

I made the calls and since the two “twighlighters” did their flit I have been doing the injections myself, but if I had been much older, frailer, or not so able to deal with all the stress of the situation by myself, I would have been left by the community nursing service with no injections at all.

Just before I went to sleep there was a bit of news on the radio that big, bushy eye brows are back in fashion and all the girls on the cat walk are striding around looking like Denis Healey, as if they have large wriggling caterpillars walking over their faces. Perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t go out to the West End then, I fear I am falling far behind at the moment in the area of high fashion.


  1. This is disgusting and they watched while you did the injection yourtself!!! What is the point of these excuses for nurses?

  2. Thank you for your comment Jane.
    I have written a bit more about this on my next blog - I made an official complaint but I doubt if it will have any effect. I have come to the conclusion that the NHS is a separate planet with its own rules and culture.