The first thing that gets you is the weight. Wheelchairs, gas canisters, trolleys.
Manoeuvering a bed along a hospital corridor makes the supermarket sweep a piece of (cup)cake. You spend so much time trying to avoid bumping into doors, avoid running over people’s feet and avoid crushing patients against a wall, you forget to look where you are going.
Fortunately, I had experienced guides to help me navigate Newham Hospital on my #NHS70 day “back to the floor” experience. Barry Humphries has seen it all in his 29 years serving this patch. Everyone knows him, and he is greeted with friendly smiles and cheery waves as he weaves his cargo around the obstacle course that is a busy district general hospital. Then there is the baffling array of passes, smart cards and keys you need to master in order to get from one area to the next. Barry has it off pat (though he’s not averse to the odd grumble).
Robert Bowling, senior porter in A&E, said it took him months to learn his way around. I only had a few hours, but I got a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes into the parts of a hospital the public never reaches. I’m pretty sure I visited Silvertown ward twice, but it didn’t feel the same place.
The first time, delivering boxes of intravenous fluids to the store cupboard, I felt almost invisible while doctors, nurses and managers all bustled about their business. Half an hour later with a poorly patient fresh from resus on a massive trolley, Barry and I, trailing a posse of anxious relatives, were greeted like old friends.
All the porters I met were unfailingly good-humored and patient, despite (or maybe because of) having to live with the realities of logistics. One early trip involved going to collect a patient from Health Central but the dispatcher forgot to put the clinic room number on the job, so we went round the houses trying to find him, calling out his name.
Another memory was of confusion over whether we were collecting six boxes from the pharmacy store or 6 BOCs (gas cylinders). It was actually both. I lost count of the number of trips down the Estates Department corridor, narrowed to inconvenience by the line of enormous bed linen baskets down one side. And when you squeezed past all this and rounded the corner, there were barriers up to protect a guy painting the rest of the wall.
Surprisingly, the Majors hub in A&E was an oasis of calm by comparison. Robert said things always hotted up in the afternoon when they have two porters on. “Worst time is at the weekend, with all the drunks that come in,” he confided. “Personally, I’d charge them for the service.” Then his bleep went again and it was off to collect another client for the CT scan.
Thanks, guys, for a memorable insight into the valuable work you do to keep our hospitals running smoothly. And special thanks for arranging it all to Micaela Huckle, logistics manager, Justin Pereira, estates lead, and Paul Coulson from Serco.
As part of our NHS 70 celebrations, our senior leaders went 'back to the floor' for the day, with our director of communications, Jon Hibbs, spending the day as a porter at Newham.