Saturday, 16 March 2013
Apparently if you're near your three score year and ten deadline AAA is something to look out for. There's a risk that the large artery that takes blood away from the heart to the lower limbs can balloon and, if you're unlucky, weaken and burst. Since this artery has the diameter of a garden hose, going "pop" releases a huge amount of valuable blood, which usually means (in 4 out of 5 cases) no more potting about in the garden or allotment.
Yesterday, our local rag carried an article about men over 65's being encouraged to self refer themselves for a quick check up. It's an ultra sound scan and the whole screening takes about 10 minutes. The article gave a phone number and the web page details.
Now, I've been paying my taxes for a goodly number of years and expect to get something back. So a free add on from the NHS is not going to pass me by. As one of the worried (that I'm not so) well I'm into any test or procedure that I can get. So I phoned the number given in our local rag.
Nothing, no switch to an answer phone, no apologetic voice assuring me that my call was important but all the consultants were busy and you're moving up the queue. The phone just rang and rang and rang. It was just before lunch so I thought, generously, that they might be at lunch. I rang after lunch. The phone simply rang and rang.
I then went to the web page expansively titled the "NHS Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Screening programme". There you could find out how to self refer by clicking on your health region. So I did that and up popped a direct dial phone number and a operator number. I phoned the direct number. No reply..........no reply..... I then went through to the operator, and asked for the extension quoted on the web page.
"We don't have extensions beginning with that number, what hospital do you want, Barts, the London, Whipps Cross". I explained that I was simply following what I was asked to do on the website; I didn't know what hospital I wanted and I explained the purpose of my call.
The operator put me through to a startled intern. "Don't know why they put you through to me." after I explained the mysteries of AAA. "I think you might want Newham." So I was routed to Newham's switch board and another extension.
You're ahead of me. "No, no one here knows about AAA." I fatally mentioned that I lived in Waltham Forest. "It's Whipps Cross you want" and before I could say "Aortic", I was talking to an operator at Whipps switch board, who decided her supervisor could help. After spelling out A...A..A...three times the switchboard supervisor decided that since the aortea went near the kidneys, it must be the Renal Unit I needed.
The secretary to the renal consultant and I had a good laugh about kidneys and the aortea before she said she'd pass me back to the switchboard. At that point I said "No, I'll ring the national co-ordinator".
Which I did. Got through straight away. A very tired voice, filled with the experience of endlessly answering calls from over 65's with a burning desire to have an AAA scan but couldn't get through, answered. "What you're name and phone number; I'll get someone to call you."
Did I mention this screening programme had been going since 2009?