A good opening gambit for any public-service provider receptionist ought to be, 'Tell me, if you have a bad experience here, do you intend to write about it in your national newspaper column?'
And although 500 or so readers a week is hardly a national column, and notwithstanding my late father's advice never to insult anyone who may one day be holding a scalpel over something important of yours, here goes.
Today, in preparing for a planned arthroscopy, I had to go to an NHS treatment centre in North Bristol. My appointment was for 0935 and I was told to allow at least three hours for it. This statement was accurate.
I arrived and went to reception. I was given a long form to fill in and a pager. I was told to go through to outpatients when the pager buzzed.
I filled in the form and read three quarters of this month's GQ and began to wonder if I should check on the delay. NHS patients do not like to check on the delay until they have begun to suffer severe malnourishment. I noticed a notice telling me that if I had not been called in fifteen minutes I should inform reception. Since I had been waiting thirty-five minutes I went back to reception. There was a queue and no obvious way to jump it if you were not a patient trying to register but trying to enquire about the delay.
I was told, after a phone call from reception to someone else in the building, that I would be called soon. Immediately I settled back down with my GQ my pager buzzed. So; they had forgotten me.
I went through the doors I had been directed through and followed the signs to outpatients reception, which took me beyond outpatients reception to a dead end. About-turning I found I had walked right past the desk. I handed over my hot buzzing pager and was told to take a seat. Again. This time in a less comfortable corridor where I had to keep moving my legs in to allow others to pass. Moving my right leg in is a current difficulty. I can hokey but not cokey.
I had had to surrender my GQ to the previous waiting room so I gave my attention to my book. At first it was hard to concentrate but eventually I settled down into it and read a chapter of John Lanchester's excellent Whoops! It's the financial crisis for idiots. I commend it.
By 1035 (sixty minutes after the timed appointment I was told was precise and there was no need to arrive early for) I had still not seen anyone but a receptionist so I plucked up the courage to enquire. I was told I was due in next. The delay was because reception hadn't told them I was here.
Next meant ten more minutes but I saw a man called Josef, who was being watched over by another man. Josef asked me a few simple questions in English, his second language I'd guess, examined me and confirmed I had what everyone thought I had and that surgery would work. He noticed I was a vicar and told me an amusing story about how he had bought a Bible for 50p on Bible Sunday yesterday.
Flung back into the corridor to await I knew not what next I had got no more than ten pages on in Whoops! when Ange and Debs called me in to a consulting room 'to get things moving.' This included a blood pressure reading (still low), nasal swab and a groin swab. For this latter they handed me a swab and asked me to swab 'my left groin.'
I swear I have no idea where my 'left groin' starts.
During none of this time was I told how many people I would be seeing, where I was headed next or what the person seeing me actually was.
Ange and Debs' double act included many complaints about their slow or crashing computer. They asked me a few demographic questions but struggled to find 'Roman or Viking' an amusing answer to their ethnicity question. By this stage I was entertaining myself, I fear. Not funny and not clever. I was returned to the corridor for a further half hour.
Finally I was seen by a bubbly, Afro-Caribbean, Pentecostal Christian woman from Wolverhampton. The nature of my work means I tend to find out more about denominations than health specialisms. She interviewed me about my health. Hooray. Many of the questions I answered with 'As I put on the form.' I wanted my 30 minutes work on it at the start of the morning to have been worthwhile.
She declared me fit for surgery and could now go. I asked how the appointment would be arranged. She said reception would sort it out but, taking me back to outpatients' reception noticed there was nobody there, so she took me to main reception. There was a queue. She told me to sit down and they would call me over.
I only gave it five minutes before noticing no queue so I wandered over. My file was now five down in a pile and there was no suggestion that anyone would have called me over anytime soon. I asked about an appointment for surgery.
I must tell you that there is a discrepancy between the letter I was sent which told me it was important to bring my diary so that a surgery date within four or five weeks could be fixed, the brochure which said this would be two or three weeks and reality, 'There are no appointments; the person who does it is at lunch, we will phone you when some more are released.'
I was allowed to leave. I swear if I hadn't queried the delay on three occasions I would still be there, being cleaned round. If you ever find yourself in Emerson's Green waiting room it would be a kindness to check if any of the people already waiting look dehydrated.
But I repent of thinking nothing good ever came out of Wolverhampton.