Hardly a day goes by when the HSE doesn’t get a mention in the news. Most of the time it’s pretty negative; a rise in MRSA figures, overcrowded A&E departments or bungled test results. It is only when you have to have dealings directly with a hospital that you get a more accurate picture. Recently my sister had her second child in the maternity unit in WRH and as she had to be there for five days I was in and out of the hospital quite a bit.

Waterford Regional Hospital has made many improvements in both the medical area and what they offer as a facility. For example, entering the hospital there has been a concerted effort to make sure people clean their hands. A recording constantly reminds you to use the alcohol gels provided in the hallways on both entering and leaving the premises. Although there was definitely an uptake in the request due to this vocal reminder it was interesting the number of people who just ignored it and went on through without stopping. (Of course it is possible that many had their own personal hand gel but I’m sure there were those who just couldn’t be bothered.)

As a visitor you are greeted with a very modern and well kept facility. There is a pleasant coffee area, public seating, a cash point, well stocked retail spaces, a hairdressers and a library. Also the artwork throughout the hospital, thanks to the Healing Arts Trust, enriches the building and certainly shortens the walk down the long corridors. All of these positives impact on the environment and it’s great to see them. Despite the horror anecdotes that you regularly hear, both medical and non medical staff that I encountered couldn’t have been more helpful. My sister’s doctor and the nurses on her unit were friendly and kind and the care she received was excellent. All the necessary equipment was available, questions were answered in a professional and relaxed way and, all in all, it led you to have confidence in what they were doing when they were doing it.

Naturally you are waiting for the ‘but’ and here it is. While there have been many improvements and much to congratulate the hospital for, there are still areas that, in my opinion, are easily remedied and shouldn’t arise at all in a modern hospital. While the individual staff members are dedicated professionals, at times it was obvious that there just weren’t enough of them. During one visit there was just one nurse looking after 42 people. Maybe this was an unexpected and out of the ordinary situation. Maybe someone phoned in sick or was taken away due to an emergency, but the fact remained that for a period of time the responsibility of an entire unit rested on one pair of shoulders.

Even for an hour it is outrageous to place this workload on one human being. If this is something that happens regularly, even for short periods of time, it is unnerving. For many people, my sister included, this probably isn’t much to worry about. She had my help and help from the rest of the family. If she needed anything we were on hand to provide it, but what about those who don’t have support or what if a real emergency arose? Are we really to believe that in a modern, progressive and wealthy nation we cannot afford to at least adequately staff our hospitals with the necessary professionals? Is it purely a financial consideration that puts patients in jeopardy?

The other area of concern for me was the food. This is absolutely no reflection on those preparing or serving it as they can only do what they are told to do, but I would have to question the nutritional value of what I saw being served. I witnessed a sandwich on white processed bread with processed cheese. It was the kind of sandwich you would find in a petrol station late at night when all the others had been bought. It was certainly fresh but definitely not the best fuel for a healthy body, let alone one that was in recovery.

Tinned fruit cocktail was another offering and although, perhaps, better than no fruit at all, can it really be classed as a serving of fresh life-giving produce? Pork and bacon were also in evidence, now proven to be some of the hardest meats for the body to digest. While everything was edible and tasted fine for what it was, and served with a smile by those dishing it out, I’d like to know who sets the menus. Food plays a very important role in a healthy body and the healing process and yet hospitals appear to ignore its value.

I have no problem with a sandwich being a menu option but surely the ingredients of such should be the very best they can be or are we, once again, back to a financial consideration? Ironically the coffee shop in the foyer had some really healthy options in sandwiches and snacks but it certainly wasn’t reflected on patient trays.

I appreciate that hundreds of people have to be fed conveniently and quickly but there are ways to do it while ensuring optimum nutrition. Jamie Oliver tackled the school dinners issue in the UK because of similar concerns. School dinners were being made up of nutrient-poor but convenient processed foods. One of the immediate areas that had to be invested in was the cooking staff. They had to be provided with enough paid hours to cook and prepare their food with fresh ingredients. Naturally there would be a financial investment but as it would undoubtedly impact on patients’ health and recovery wouldn’t it be worth it?

Of lesser importance but annoying all the same is the cost of car parking at the hospital. At €3 a time it’s steep if you are making multiple visits in a day or week. Shouldn’t there be a multiple parking discount available for those who have to visit regularly. If you had a child in the hospital and you visited several times a day, the cost mounts up very quickly. Equally the television fee is annoying, particularly if you can’t physically get out of your bed to put the euro into the slot when it inevitably runs out mid show. As a revenue stream both the car park and the television fees are probably important to the hospital budget but the system is poor and small tweaks here and there would make a great deal of difference.

Ultimately, though, the health care you receive is obviously the most significant factor in all of this. It is more important that the medical facilities, both people and equipment, are of a high standard and, to be fair, WRH have gone a long way towards this. However, what I saw further endorses the thinking that hospital management should be dealt with by business people and let the medics get on with what they do best. It is actually unfair to expect those who have chosen a medical career with the original intention of helping people, to be bogged down in such minutiae as catering, car parks and televisions. All in all I believe the HSE could probably do with a little more wisdom rather than cash.