Addiction Treatment and the NHS: Both in need of help

Alcohol plays a huge part in the culture of life in the U.K. So many social occasions revolve around drink being involved. Even events like going to a concert, football or other sporting events. How many times have you heard people arrange to have drinks first. I’ve done it myself – I’m not sitting here polishing my halo and glowing with dry January health but I do have a love-hate relationship with alcohol.

I hate that people are shocked if you say you aren’t drinking at a social event. I can have just as good a time without it. I do enjoy a nice glass of wine as much as anyone but I hate that I’ve witnessed the worst that alcohol can do to people, having seen first hand how one drink can lead to total oblivion and beyond. When alcohol becomes all consuming and the drinker doesn’t know when to stop, or indeed, can’t stop. I have seen a relative reach that state and they are helpless to the effect alcohol has on them. The surrounding family helpless as they are desperate to help and can do nothing.

I have a close relative who has battled with alcoholism for a number of years. He has gone through hell, been hospitalised and sought help in expensive private clinics. He has also been strong enough to enjoy the last 8 years without the addiction being a factor in his life and has lived a normal life in that time. However, he has started 2017 with a massive drinking binge. Not a Happy New Year for him or the family.

While many sobered up following the festive season and started following a New Year health regime, he continued to drink until he couldn’t eat, only wanted more drink and could not stand without falling down. Is it self inflicted? Absolutely yes. Do people in this circumstance deserve help? Absolutely also yes. As a family, we tried in vain to get help, to plead for him to stop and sought help from the agencies we believed might be able to do something.

However, help is not easy to find and difficult to get. I fully understand that the NHS is at breaking point and the last thing they need to do is to dry out a drunk. However, addiction is an illness like any other and can affect anyone from any walk of life. The help available does need meet the needs of anyone in this situation, the family cannot intervene and it shouldn’t be left to the NHS to sort out when they are stretched already.

In the past month, we had a visit to A&E, where after 4 hours and administering a bag of saline and carrying out all the medical checks required we were sent home with a referral to a misuse nurse the next day. We all knew in that room – nurses, doctor and relatives that the appointment would not be kept. At that point, he needed help, wasn’t eating and was falling down. The biggest concern for our family was the danger of falling downstairs but nothing could be done except send him home.

As a family, we attended the misuse clinic for advice. As nice and helpful as the nurse was, their hands are tied until the patient stops drinking – only then can they administer medication to help with detox. We were also told we couldn’t stop the alcohol supply at that point due to the risk of seizure in detox. Basically, we had no choice but to sit back and watch him get worse until he needed to be admitted to hospital. Surely finding a way to intervene and help before someone hits rock bottom must be better for all – the patient, the family and the NHS.

Over the course of the week following the appointment with the misuse nurse, we were in contact with our GP who said the same – don’t cut the drink supply totally but did make an urgent referral to the local alcohol and drug team. Following an urgent referral we expected them to call but heard nothing until a letter arrived in the post for another appointment we knew we couldn’t get him to given the state he was in. We then contacted an organisation called Addaction explaining all of this and asking for advice and help but heard nothing. I still haven’t had a reply from them.

It took a home visit from the GP to witness the state he was then in and he then recommended a hospital admittance but did state there was no guarantee they would keep him in – despite falling whenever he tried to stand and him being so weak from lack of food for over a week, there was still a chance A&E would have sent him home.

The stay in hospital has resulted in him being on the path to recovery. What happens next is up to him but we are back on the right path and he is not looking for a drink at all. It shouldn’t have taken so long to get help and he may not have been so ill.

I am not writing this blog to defend addiction. I am writing it to say – there needs to be a new approach taken. The current system is not right. Neither are Government plans to introduce minimum alcohol prices – an addict will find a way to get it, no matter how much they charge.

There is no help in the system for concerned families who know it is an illness and want to get help for their relatives. Had our GP not attended the house when he did, I am certain I would be making funeral plans and not writing a blog.

Our NHS staff are hard working in sometimes horrible circumstances and I am sure they don’t need or want to be dealing with the aftermath of addiction among other patients. However, there is no alternative. Specific addiction wards or clinics with specialists are what is required to treat this disease and offer respite for concerned relatives.

I don’t have all the answers but our politicians need to start speaking to people who have dealt with this first hand to be able to try to fix things.

I started out writing this blog as a way to vent about the lack of support for families  – not just the addicts – the families need just as much, if not more support and need to have more rights when seeking help for people who are not fit to make rational decisions for themselves. However, what I have witnessed this month made me feel even more concerned for our NHS in general and not just when it comes to addiction.

I have moaned from afar in the past but I have seen first hand what the NHS staff are dealing with and it saddens me to see how poorly run things are. GP’s regularly working 16 hour days cannot be good for anyone, A&E waiting time of up to 6 hours as standard, patients in hospital not fit to get out of bed for a shower, left to smell in bed. Do we no longer offer bed baths? My guess is nurses are too stretched and don’t have the time for that. Some patients families will visit and clean them – what happens to the ones who have no one to do that? Is it any wonder there are hospital infections?

I’ve seen nurses running everywhere with no time to talk to patients properly about their care and treatment. This isn’t a criticism of the nurses themselves and I found them all lovely – they don’t have the time.

When it came time for my relative to come home I was appalled. He, along with other patients ready to leave were moved from the ward to a discharge lounge. All very well and efficient you might think when the beds are needed for new patients. However, most patients aren’t aware they are about to be discharged and therefore, don’t have clothes, jacket or shoes or indeed a bag for their belongings. Is it really dignified to move patients to a waiting room along with day surgery patients and their families while dressed in their pyjamas and slippers and with only a carrier bag for their things. There are no adequate changing facilities to get into clothes once family arrive with them. Surely they could wait on the ward until family come to collect them? Further, what about people who don’t have someone to bring these things – what do they do?  There must be a better system for this.

Finally, communication on treatment and recovery is non existent. We were told as a family that there was a folder at the end of the bed which served as a two way communication tool between medical staff and family to keep them up to date and for family to enter questions if required. It was removed on his first night on the ward and was not completed the whole time he was there. A good system to be implemented but only works if it is actually used. Why tell us about it and then do nothing. We asked at various times how he was doing but were given no indication. Most patients are not in a fit state to take on board what they are being told about their care – medical staff should be in contact with families.

This blog is merely the observations of someone who rarely even visits my GP, never mind a hospital. As such, my eyes were well and truly opened and led me to write this as an open letter to our politicians.  Something needs to be done to help the two areas I have covered here and throwing more money at it won’t solve anything until it is being run efficiently.

As an independent witness, I believe a complete overhaul is required and before it is too late. Therefore, politicians, I implore you – seek advice from three groups – medical practitioners, patients and families to seek ways to improve things or there will be no NHS left for you to run. I have in the past advocated that private health care should be available as an opt out of the NHS for those who want to. However, what I have seen this month has made me want the NHS saved.

As I said earlier, I am not an expert and don’t claim to have all the answers but I can see something is very wrong and needs fixed by some radical overhauls to the running to the system. I also don’t mean this as a criticism of any of the medical staff who work in our NHS, they are all doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances and they need all our help and thanks.

Will our politicians take note of this blog? Maybe, maybe not but even putting it down in writing is one step closer to someone listening and doing something.

Love Polly xx



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