Last week I attended not a glamorous presentation or a frivolous party, but an annual members meeting at the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea. Truth be told, RBH is a very special place and I care for this hospital deeply, as incredibly kind and knowledgeable professionals work there, doing their utmost best to help their patients to get well. As Mr. Robert Bell, RBH’s Chief Executive said in his address, they ‘treat humans who have a heart or lung disease’. Last year alone this hospital, which has two sites, 450 beds and 3,000 staff, performed 424 life-saving operation on children, many of whom couldn’t have survived without their surgeries.
What never ceases to amaze me that is that Brompton hospital accepts many very sick patients that other hospitals aren’t equipped to treat, yet their mortality rate remains one of the lowest across UK hospitals board-and believe me when I say that they treat very sick children and adults indeed.
People who work at Brompton, be it the catering team, the nurses, the surgeons, dietitians, pharmasists or a physios not only are incredibly skilled, but most of them possess almost un-human empathy for their patients, not only that, they also extend incredible kindness and help to the families of their patients.
I was rendered speechless, and believe me, it’s a rare occurrence, when in February as part of Safe and Sustainable review of children’s heart services in England by joint committee of primary care trusts, it has been recommended that Royal Brompton’s heart surgery for children should stop-if that happens, all other services for children treated at Brompton will follow, including their long-term cystic fibrosis patients. Royal Brompton hospital, where Diana, Princess of Wales used to be a patron, is primarily heart and lung hospital, well known all over the world, yet some bureaucrat who obviously doesn’t care about the people and who has never experienced the anguish of a child being incredibly sick because his heart is failing, thought it is a good idea to take away the cardiac surgery away from Brompton.
What is this country coming to, if someone in the high political or bureaucratic hierarchy is even contemplating the idea of closing one of the best hospitals this country has-what chance would sick children with heart and lung disease stand to be treated-and time is precious commodity for many of those children, sometimes it’s a matter of days, if not hours. I have seen children go from struggling for a breath, while they await surgery or an organ transplant (with cystic fibrosis it’s often not only the lungs that are ravaged by disease, by stomach and heart too for example), to them making an amazing recovery due to superhuman efforts of the Brompton team-doctors do work in shifts there, but they often overstay their hours, going beyond their call of duty and every day making it their professional mission to find the solution to the most complicated problem-bear in mind that even the most experienced surgeon doesn’t get paid anywhere close to the bonuses bankers receive and even very experienced cardiac nurses struggle financially, yet they all give so much more to society with amazing dignity and grace, when the stresses and pressures of their jobs are enormous.
Doctors and nurses see deaths on a daily basis and one would think that in order for them to do their job and remain sane in the process, they need to distance themselves, think pragmatically and logically, but I know for a fact that Brompton’s PICU and Rose Ward staff actually take their patients to heart, soothing them, reassuring them and trying their hardest to help their little patients to regain their health, if possible.
Another thing that is wonderfully refreshing, forgive the pun, is that Brompton doesn’t even smell like a hospital when you go through its sliding entrance doors and it feels like home to many families whose kids have long-term health problems. Brompton has many long-term kids i.e patients that they see from diagnosis throughout treatments, surgeries and recovery and parents end up ‘living’ on the chairs placed beside their children’s beds. Most of us take good health for granted, but think for a moment that your child is so sick, he or she needs to be hooked up to machines to help them breath, oxygenate their body and monitors to keep track of their heart rhythm, blood pressure,etc for days, if not months and that the only home that the child knows are the four walls of the cubicle that he shares with three or five other little patients-Royal Brompton is a home and a place of hope for many children and their exhausted and worried families.
I have signed the petition and urged many of my friends to do so, yet my local MP, Glenda Jackson, didn’t even bother to reply to my e-mail, urging her to get involved. I believe in fighting for what you believe in in a peaceful way, and I think RBH deserves to continue doing what they do best, saving lives and giving hope to their patients, be it grown-ups or children. When you are a a member of the hospital team you remain under under scrutiny and constant pressure and stress, so I think that places like Royal Brompton deserve all the support they can get because they make our already fragile world a much better place for being in it. Yes, only a person who actually lost a family member can truly understand what agony the families of the heart and lung patients go through on a daily basis, especially if it’s a newborn baby boy or girl who is struggling to breath or a teenager, who you love beyond words, yet you can’t help him or her and have to delegate that care to someone else.
Pause for a moment and imagine that you can develop lung disease or a heart problem at any moment, after all noone knows what tomorrow will bring. Royal Brompton remains a source of hope and inspiration, a place that makes a difference to thousands of people in their quest for health and gives hope to parents of very sick children. Now look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t feel like getting involved………