This new Channel 4 series was filmed in the accident and emergency wards of two Midlands hospitals and last night’s episode highlighted the teenagers who come into A&E with alcohol-related injuries that are pushing NHS staff to the limits of their endurance on a weekly basis.
For the doctors and nurses on the frontline who are left to pick up the pieces of a generation that some are calling a health time-bomb, there are no easy answers… however, consultant Naomi Cuthbert gave me the impression that she’d ship off the ‘sub-set of society’ as she called some of her patients to an island somewhere and leave them there…
Naomi claimed that she’s now so used to stab and gunshot wounds it doesn’t even make her ‘excited’ anymore and I suspect there’s a great deal of vitriol just bubbling beneath the surface of Ms Cuthbert, and to a large extent, I can’t blame her but the fact is, as she herself said – but followed with a wry and knowing smile – “I’m a doctor, it’s my duty to treat everybody the same and I strive for excellence”.
That’s not a verbatim quote but it was the gist of it, however the smile that she gave afterwards implied that this was in fact far from the case and merely the party line, and that worries me.
Yes of course it’s wholly wrong that drunken teenagers are filling A&E wards up and down the country and worse yet that they are often abusive and violent towards staff, however, the fact is they are still people. Unpleasant, annoying, stupid people granted, but the fundamental principle of the NHS is treatment for all. Unpalatable as that may be at times to those who have to put up with it – that is, the staff – it’s nonetheless true.
Naomi went on to say, “If you took alcohol out of the equation, 50% of our staff wouldn’t be necessary,” and later added that there is a “sub-set of society that is completely dysfunctional.
“Reality is some patients are more deserving of compassion than others… Some people visit tragedy upon themselves and some people have it visited upon them.”
There was one vile young woman who was of this sub-set of which Naomi Cuthbert spoke and who was a ‘shining’ example of what she was talking about; selfish, rude, loud mouthed, ill educated and demanding, so one can see that dealing with morons of that nature on a nightly basis would soon become tedious. There was yet another who was so drunk she played childish games with the staff and took up way too much of their time.
However, I personally believe that rather than vilifying youngsters for being in A&E as the result of something to do with alcohol, maybe we should offer the benefit of the doubt and question why it is that young people feel the need to get ‘off their faces’ on a regular basis and why it’s so easy for them to do so.
There were several cases shown last night that where the consequences of a night on the town and binge drinking were truly awful and the effects of which would last a lifetime. One such case was Danielle who’d stepped into the road – we were told after she left a pub – and ended up underneath a taxi with her legs shattered to the extent that for the twenty minutes she was trapped, her legs were bent back over her shoulders.
Understandably, 19 year old Danielle was in a great deal of pain and the morphine she’d been given didn’t touch the sides so she was given Ketamine, however, she was given ten times the dose ordered by Dr Bish Elangbam – excuse me Dr Bish if I’ve misspelled your surname. As a result, her heart stopped and it took over eleven frantic minutes to restart it. Danielle then spent several days in intensive care.
That was scary; of course doctors and nurses are only human and in tense and fraught situations, mistakes are going to happen, but that was a pretty huge one on the scale of ‘oh dear we dropped a boll**k’ mistakes.
I noticed that the cynical and somewhat stereotypical ‘battle weary’ Naomi wasn’t asked to give a monologue about that incident.
However, several surgeries later, Danielle was in a jolly mood as she prepared for her discharge from hospital and when asked if it was a big price to pay for a night out, she joked,
“No I only spent £20 and a free taxi… in an ambulance to the hospital”
Another shocking case was that of a young man who’d been one of several passengers in a car driven by a drunk teen and when it crashed, he was the only one with severe injuries; the driver and the other passengers had only minor scrapes but the shocking thing about that was how they proudly joked/boasted about how much the driver had had to drink and seemed to think it was all a bit of a laugh really.
It didn’t seem to occur to any of them that any or all of them could’ve been lying in a morgue at that moment surrounded by other bodies of perhaps a car full of children who they could’ve hit. The arrogance and stupidity of them was breathtaking and disgusting.
However, by far the saddest tale of last night was a young man who was brought in already in a coma from which he ultimately never recovered. Now, please correct me if I’m wrong on this – my phone went during this part of the programme – but I believe his name was John and he’d been either hit by a drunk driver or his accident was in some regard related to drink driving.
The nurses who dealt with his devastated family were the type of nurses one hopes to be in the care of should we ever find ourselves or a loved one in hospital. The male nurse who patiently sat with his family and couldn’t have been more helpful became tearful as he explained how this young man was probably going to die and how hard it was going to be for his loving family. Sadly, he was right on all counts. Another female nurse was similarly emotional as she commented that it could’ve been her son or anyone’s son, and that it was hard to take.
Those are the kind of medical professionals who keep the NHS running under desperately tough conditions and thank God for them. They no doubt see as many ‘sub-set of society’ patients as Ms Cuthbert but they’ve retained their humanity despite being faced with those patients just as often.
I have to say, my overall impression of the programme came down to this; for those seriously injured, the system kicks in and – despite the Danielle overdose situation – it usually works like a well oiled machine but has added compassion for those in life and death situations.
However, I hope my teenaged sons are never treated by Naomi Cuthbert because I’m not in any way convinced they’d be treated properly. I have two teenaged sons, both over 18, but yes, they both are prone to bouts of binge drinking with groups of their friends and no, it’s not something I condone or like but the fact is, if either of them ever needed medical care as a result of it, I’d expect them to be treated with – if not compassion and kindness – at least the minimum of actual physical checks and follow ups that may be necessary and I fear under Dr Naomi’s ‘care’, this would not necessarily be the case.
Is it right that hospitals are full of drunken kids? No, of course not. Is it right that people drink and drive? No, of course not but does that make them any less deserving of treatment? No it shouldn’t. If a racing car driver crashes or a skier has an accident or a boxer gets a head injury, would any of those people be treated with disdain because they brought their injuries on themselves? I’m sure they wouldn’t but doesn’t it amount to the same thing?
Recklessness and stupidity are facts of life and of course they aren’t pleasant to deal with and the people who commit those life endangering acts are often horrible people with no manners but it doesn’t mean they deserve to die and young kids do die of alcohol poisoning.
So to Naomi who posed the question of how to stop this cycle of behaviour, perhaps lobby the government to significantly raise the cost of alcohol and raise the age when booze can be bought but I personally would rather she didn’t take it out on those who need her help, regardless of the reason that they do.
Perhaps she should also consider changing specialism from accident and emergency to some other discipline within medicine where she won’t have to treat drunken kids because what worries me is that one day, her cynicism is going to mean that a drunken teenager shows up and has some underlying life threatening problem that’s overlooked because Naomi has this ‘been there, done that, got the t shirt’ attitude and she may just miss it and that person will die.