A PENSIONER’S TALE: The NHS was our lifesaver but only because there was a Premier Inn next door!

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Pam and Leighton Bowen at home in Wales . . .wonderful treatment but a flawed NHS 'system'

RETIRED News of the World journalist LEIGHTON BOWEN, 77 years old next Tuesday (April 25) is alive and well probably thanks to his use of the bowel cancer screening kit mentioned in Jackie Kaines’ recent article.
Leighton’s child bride Pam (she’ll only be 76 next October!) has heart problems and a serous spinal complaint. They live in Llandre, a very rural part of mid-West Wales, 4.5 miles from Bronglais Hospital, which is almost in the centre of Aberystwyth, Ceredigion.
They read and agreed with much of Neil Fowler’s defence of the NHS on this site earlier this month.
But Leighton added a rider: “ Our care, both clinical and compassionate in all four hospitals where we were treated above, has been of the highest order. We could not have asked for better. However . . .”

At this point I will let LEIGHTON BOWEN make his case in his own words. He writes:

AFTER an early alert via a home testing kit [in 2013] under the auspices of Bowel Screening Wales, my bowel cancer was confirmed by colonoscopy at Bronglais Hospital and my initial interview with a surgeon was also there.
But consultations with the actual surgeon, the five-hour operation and hospital stay, plus post-op consultations and subsequent CT scans all required visits to Withybush Hospital, Havefordwest in Pembrokeshire – 68 miles from where we live.
This meant my wife staying at a local hotel during my week-long stay in hospital (also for my son, who took time off from work in Leicestershire to be with us). In addition, early-morning follow-up appointments with my consultant meant us staying overnight at a Premier Inn close to Withybush.

Don’t think me ungrateful: Pam had almost bullied a reluctant me into signing up for the bowel cancer screening service service after I had a polyp removed at Bronglais in 2009. As a result, the initial alert in September 2013 was so early that a five-hour op in December cleared the cancer and, lucky me, I did not require any chemo or radiotherapy treatment.

Pam, and Bowel Screening Wales, may well have saved my life. But two years later, her problems started.

[In 2015] Pam’s serious spinal complaint was diagnosed at Bronglais Hospital, but her surgeon held pre-op consultations at both Morriston Hospital, Swansea (74 miles from home) and Singleton Hospital, Swansea (76 miles). Once again, it has been easier to stay at local hotels on the eve of these appointments and during her operation and subsequent time in hospital I booked into a hotel four miles from Morriston , where the op took place.

Fortunately, my wife’s cardiac problems have been, and still are, monitored and treated at Bronglais, our local hospital, involving very little travel.

However, it would be wrong for my wife and I to pretend that the considerable travelling and hotel stays did not add greatly to the worry and stress usually associated with an elderly couple’s respective problems.

An extra stress was the nature of our journey: the route to Withybush Hospital has no dual carriageways but plenty of bottlenecks, notably at Newport (Pembs) and Fishguard , with the added problem of often being trapped behind slow-moving agricultural vehicles.

The route to Morriston and Singleton involves the first 45-50 miles of winding countryside until the first dual carriageway (A48) is reached and there are about four miles on the M4 before the turn-off to Morriston. Both our operations took place in December, mine in 2013 and Pam’s in 2015, which added to the stress of driving, especially during hours of darkness.

We have been lucky that we were able to drive ourselves but we do not know how long that will last; we have also been fortunate to be able to afford staying at various hotels when required. We shudder to think how other less fortunate, and more elderly people than we struggle to cope with these logistical problems.

We find little comfort when we hear politicians and clinicians insist that centralisation of services are for the benefit of the patient. The added stress of travel, concern about how partners and other family members are coping with travel problems are real and constant worries. The 140- or 150-mile round trips also preclude most family and friends even managing to make visiting hours in one day.

Oh, for the times when we were young, when major hospitals were within easy reach of people and were supplemented by cottage hospitals in most towns and, often, large villages. Gone, never to return!

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