Gina Davidson: Boardering on the ridiculous

Boarding not all it's cracked up to be. File picture: Ian Georgeson

Boarding not all it's cracked up to be. File picture: Ian Georgeson

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GROWING up reading about the adventures of Darrell Rivers at Malory Towers made the idea of being a “boarder” seem extremely appealing. All those midnight feasts, lacrosse games, pranks on fellow schoolgirls . . . Enid Blyton’s boarding school was a world away from reality.

However, the only time I’ve ever actually got to be a “boarder” was when I was in hospital with a broken ankle which required surgery to put it back together.

It was the first time I’d heard the phrase in a medical sense – and it came from a cardiac nurse, the first person I clapped eyes on when I came round after being knocked out while my bones were put back in a rough order.

I went in with a smashed-up ankle but ended up being cared for among patients with severe heart problems. I was a boarder – one of apparently 14,000 patients in the Lothians in the last 24 months according to figures obtained by the Scottish Labour Party.

The staff were lovely – morphine on demand – and the care excellent, though midnight feasts were sadly lacking. Yet they admitted they couldn’t answer any of my questions as orthopaedics wasn’t their speciality. “Ask us about your heart, anything, go on, test us,” they laughed.

Apparently the orthopaedic ward was full – well, it was January, a top time for breakages – but I was given the distinct impression that “boarding” was not unusual. An impression underlined by a visit from a friend whose son was also in hospital, supposed to be on a surgical ward but instead being cared for by renal nursing staff until a bed became free.

Without a doubt, Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary is under a huge strain as patient numbers outstrip beds but it was known from the start that this would be the case. Unions constantly highlighted the lack of beds before the plans for the Little France hospital even got off the drawing board.

And while I’d take any politically motivated research with a huge pinch of salt, the figures are from NHS Lothian and cannot be denied.

Hopefully the vast majority of boarders were like me – no underlying health issues and able to be managed in the care of competent staff no matter which area of the hospital it was. But there is research which shows that for those whose health is more vulnerable, being in the wrong ward can be seriously detrimental.

While a broken ankle is nothing in the grand scale of health matters, my operation was continually rescheduled and I certainly felt, rightly or wrongly, it was because I wasn’t on the correct ward where the specialists were making the decisions: out of sight, out of mind. It got to the point that when the nurses came with the meal ordering form, they looked as miserable as me as it meant yet another delay for surgery.

So my cancelled op – four times it was changed to “the next day” – will also be part of the statistics which this week showed the number of procedures being rearranged in Lothian is on the rise, too.

Indeed, Lothian is now the worst-performing health board in Scotland in this regard, with three operations rescheduled every day due to

capacity problems – including a lack of beds.

The blame for cancellations of planned ops is generally put on emergencies, and who would argue with that? However, if a hospital has to cancel the operation of a 16-month-old boy whose condition could stop him breathing at any point during the night, not once or twice but four times, then there’s a serious problem with a lack of beds.

A lack of staff is also an issue – one which has the future of paediatrics at St John’s Hospital in Livingston in doubt.

NHS Lothian is clearly in difficulty. While frontline staff soak up the pressure, there is obviously either something wrong with how resources are managed – or there are just not enough resources to go round.

Answers are needed before a boarder becomes a casualty.

Pete brought plenty to Capital party

IF it hadn’t been for Pete Irvine’s imagination and enthusiasm, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations would not be known around the world and the tourists who flock to the Capital each festive season would be AWOL.

As a result, there have been many plaudits from public sector types since he announced he was standing down from Unique Events this week.

But he has his detractors, too – many in Edinburgh believe that the Hogmanay celebrations are not for “locals” but only for tourists and then there are the annual questions about how much the council has actually received in return for helping to finance the celebrations.

Without doubt, though, Irvine’s added much-needed colour to a city which in the depths of winter could be as miserable as the weather. It will be interesting to see who steps into his shoes.

Steep learning curve at college

EDINBURGH College has made four new appointments to its board, all with expertise in the differing worlds of business and education, housing and health.

Here’s hoping they will be able to get a grip on a college which has seen applications to study there go into a “precipitous decline” as it’s dealt with a massive cut in funding and had to sack 70 staff.

They will need their sleeves rolled up.

Frosty reception

FLIGHTS between Edinburgh and Reykjavik are due to start in July. If the weather in Iceland is anything like it is in BBC Four’s new programme, Trapped, I’m not sure there’ll be many takers.

Fred’s day has finally come

I can’t be the only one who is slightly thrilled at the prospect of Fred Goodwin on the stand being quizzed by lawyers on behalf of the RBS Shareholders Action Group.

While I hope they get the answers they are looking for, his evidence will be a timely reminder of the culture which existed and which many believe has never really gone away within banking circles.