"Communication problems at Southmead"

About: Southmead Hospital

My wife had an 1100 appointment for surgery at Southmead on 24 September. We arrived at 1050 and were directed to G21 where reception staff told my wife to take a seat in the waiting area and a nurse would come and speak to her. By 1230 no-one had spoken to us so I approached the reception desk staff and asked about the delay. I was told that my wife was on a list and those on the list were being seen in order. (No further information was given.) My wife and I continued to wait until, at 1330, I again approached staff to enquire what was happening. The receptionist said she would go and make some enquiries; on her return she informed me that my wife was fourth on the list (which was meaningless in relation to an unspecified time-scale) and that a nurse would see us in the next 15-20 minutes. A nurse did indeed see us shortly before 1400 when we were moved to Room 335 - a waiting area adjacent to the operating theatres. Over the next four hours a variety of staff spoke to my wife, but none of them seemed to be clear when her surgery would take place apart from the surgeon who said that my wife's operation would be at 1830. Others who spoke to us afterwards were unaware of that, including the anaesthetist who, at about 1500, thought that surgery was imminent. The point about all this is that for 7 hours no-one saw fit to provide my wife with accurate information about the time of her operation. In short, poor or non-existent communication. At 1830 my wife was taken to the operating theatre and I left the hospital to drive home. On arrival I found that an answerphone message had been left on my mobile from an unidentified male who did not leave a number to return his call. (This is another example of abysmal communication by hospital staff.) The message was that he needed my wife's CPAP machine which I had left with her other personal effects in the custody of staff working in the area of Room 335. I then spent the next 45 minutes trying to contact someone at Southmead who could locate the machine and get it to whoever needed it. The only contact number I had was that of Ward 34B to which my wife was due to move after surgery; there was no reply from that number. Other numbers which I reached via the main switchboard also resulted in failed calls until I eventually spoke to someone who undertook to locate the CPAP machine and get it to its destination. (I still do not know whether she was successful.) After surgery my wife was moved to Ward 34A. During her two days there we witnessed numerous examples of poor communication, for example it being apparent that notes about medication were not being routinely kept as my wife was frequently asked whether she had received 'medication X' . As we see it, patient notes are an essential means of communicating vital information between hospital staff yet even the notes that existed were being ignored. Your early comments on this serious matter would be welcome.

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Response from Southmead Hospital

Dear Anonymous – thank you for taking the time and trouble to post your feedback. I am sorry that you had problems locating you wife and receiving clear information about her whereabouts. Regarding provision of a precise time for her operation, I am sorry that staff could not confirm this, however, theatre lists are always fluid and are constantly adjusted as the day progresses due to some procedures finishing earlier or later that the time scheduled. Patients are often asked if they have received a particular medication as part of “intentional rounding”, a process to check if a patient is comfortable, or requires further pain relief, etc. All medication must be prescribed and signed for so please rest assured your notes will have had the correct information recorded, and staff will have been aware of their contents. It is also the case that staff handovers are carried out at each shift change. I am sorry if this was not explained to you or your wife at the time. I regret that telephone contact with the ward was so difficult, and your feedback had been shared with all concerned. Kind regards – Steve Sykes Advice and Complaints Team

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