Last week I had surgery as a public patient in a public hospital in NSW. I’ve lived to tell the tale.
In mid-March I went to my (bulk-billing) GP in inner-Sydney with symptoms of something awry. She sent me for a test at a (bulk-billing) x-ray clinic nearby. I was able to arrange the test for the next day. The ultrasound indicated that I needed to go to a specialist. I got an appointment the next week. This doctor confirmed that I needed surgery. I don’t have private health insurance so would be a public patient on his public list. He gave me a date in June but said there was a chance of cancellations before then. Because I’m not working, I paid under $100 for that consultation. It’s the only money I’ve paid for a sequence of first-rate medical care.
Sure enough, within days a cancellation came up for April, a much more convenient date for me (and good to get it over with asap).
A week before the surgery, I attended the pre-admissions clinic at the hospital. Here I had an ECG, was interviewed by two nurses, a surgical resident doctor and an anaesthetist and had blood taken for a full blood count. I was given an estimated time of three to four hours at the clinic and indeed, I was there for three and a half hours. The waiting rooms were clean and uncluttered. All the staff were friendly, informative and unhurried. I signed Medicare forms for all this.
The afternoon of the operation, I was admitted to the hospital in a bright, clean, uncrowded unit. I was seen by a nurse and then by a surgical registrar. Once kitted up and loaded onto the trolley, I was seen by an anaesthetic registrar who was very friendly and reassuring. My surgeon appeared and had a chat. Then it was off to sleep…
I woke up in recovery and was wheeled back to my room. Yes, my room. I had a room with its own bathroom and a view (not that I noticed much of the view for the first 12 hours.) It also had a television suspended from the ceiling which I could work via remote control. On the second night I watched some old Seinfelds. When I said to a nurse that I was puzzled as to how I’d come by a “private room”, she corrected me. “It’s a single room”, she said. A single room in a public hospital.
Later that first night, two registrars came to talk to me about the operation. They were calm and interactive, answering my questions thoughtfully. The night nurse was a steady and intelligent presence. There was some problem in the middle of the night so she called the resident to see me: another very friendly and reassuring doctor with impeccable bedside manner.
Hospital food is notoriously bad and I’m a vegetarian, which can presage worse than bad, but this time the food was fine – I even scored some gluten-free ice cream.
The day nurses were good-humoured and highly competent. I was visited by the “pain team” – just one doctor, in this case – and after discussion, adjustments were made to my medication. I was visited by the resident doctor twice that post-op day, putting me on some more medication after a further blood test. My surgeon came to see me 24 hours after the op and was chatty.
Morning two, another visit from the registrar. An hour later, another visit from the surgeon. I got the go-ahead to go home, two days early. Smiles all round.
Home is definitely best, but the worst I could say of the hospital was that the plastic-covered beds are uncomfortable and even in a “single” room, it’s noisy. Things beep and buzz and clang all day and most of the night.
Other than that, my hospital experience was one of seamless attentiveness and excellent care.
I know someone who had major, long-anticipated surgery cancelled on the day. Of course I’d be feeling very different about the NSW health system if my own operation had been cancelled (I was told there was a small chance of that happening) or if I’d had to wait several (or more) months. But that didn’t happen.
I know that I’m an informed patient who was able to find the right surgeon. I also know that my surgeon mostly does private work. I’ve ended up wondering if so many people go private for surgery these days that public patients (in some medical areas) get a clearer run.
Many major hospital buildings have been renewed in the past two decades. The amenities and technology in most Sydney hospitals are second to none. I know the same is not available to many rural or indigenous Australians nor to people living in some parts of the metropolis. But I’m not alone in my positive experience – I have a friend who’s had two major, planned operations as a public patient within the past two years and he also had excellent care in an excellent environment (in a different hospital to the one I was in).
I’m still recuperating but it helps that I feel as if the health system really was geared towards my health – as it should be. And it definitely helps that I won’t be getting any bills. I’m glad not to have private health insurance.