Customer Services

DSC_0363Another “great customer service” experience at Natwest West Ealing yesterday morning. Branch opens at 9:00, is still shut by 9:30. No notice at the door, no apology, just a number of customers wishing to surrender their money using the automated service (there’s no human cashier even when they are open).

But they happily take my money, play with it, pay negligible interest and charge substantial fees.

Makes me wish there was a really customer friendly alternative nearby.

My experience at HSBC Ealing on the same day wasn’t much better, but at least they were open when they said they would be, and a human being greeted me, ready to point out the appropriate machine for the service I require.

Performance Assessment

DSC_0046I can’t help mulling over the experience even after the end of my stay at Charing Cross hospitals. I am sure that some of the overhead in paperwork and staff is caused by the desire to measure and monitor the nurses’ performance.

Based on my own observations, here are a few suggestions to measure that easily and reliably.

Measure the minutes a nurse spends in the patients’ room and divide by the minutes spent chatting in the pantry or in the hallway.

Measure the average distance and average speed walked.

Consider the case of medicine which needs dissolving in water. Distinguish nurses who place the sachet of powder on the patient’s nightstand from those who actually fetch water and dissolve the powder, and again from those who also run to get a straw for stirring such that said powder actually dissolves.

Consider the case of a day old bandage with fluids beginning to seep through. Distinguish nurses who point-blank refuse to change the dressing following a close inspection from a 4 meter distance (not until it bleeds through) from those who change when asked, and again from those who change the dressing unasked and even offer spare dressing.

I experience the full range of the scale, and find the width of the gap astounding.

Here’s a flower for those who rank at the top of the range. They would know who they are if they’d read this.

Piece of Resistance


In my last report from under the covers at Charing Cross hospitals, I can reveal the final piece of resistance.

I am in fact writing this article after my discharge from the hospital and safe return home for the time being, but that’s already the point. The fact that I managed to get discharged and that the joint forces of the NHS managed to set me free is astonishing, if you consider the time line.

12:45 Doctor decides I can go home
16:15 The pharmacy is now preparing my medication
16:30 First portions of paperwork arrive at my bed
17:15 I am free to go

I am free to go within only 4 1/2 hours. 4 1/2 hours for printing a two page form, collecting a few signatures and dispensing a small collection of standard medication. A clear and fine win for the bureaucrats, methinks.


Patient Focus


In my penultimate report from under the covers at Charing Cross hospitals (I am in fact back home by the time this post goes live), I want to share some thoughts about patient focus.

I am sure the NHS, Charing Cross hospitals and the architect and interior designers of this particular home away from home (ward 10 South) are all very proud of the comprehensive patient-focused design and layout.

But that’s exactly what it is: it is focused on the patient and allows for the best possible care. But, did anyone try to see things from a patient’s standpoint of view? Apparently not, or not successfully so. There’s amble space for the nurses to look away drugs and materials next to the bed but little room for a change of clothes. There’s amble space for nurses to assist or come to the rescue in the bathroom, but little room to put a towel and no place to put a bar of soap or bottle of shower gel other than on the floor. Needless to say that I am not allowed to bend down. There’s a request to take only lukewarm showers but no temperature control is available in the bath, only all or nothing.

It seems that the designers were focusing on the patient too hard and failed to imagine themselves in that place.

Papers, Papers, Everywhere


I am reporting from under the cover at Charing Cross hospitals, being submitted to a ward of approximately 30 beds.

Patients are being looked after by a handful of nurses and health care assistants. There are also cleaners and those taking care of the meals. And there are a lot of paper-shufflers, that’s for sure.

Just take a gentle stroll around the ward in an attempt to get some circulation going, and you’ll find half a dozen of people at least, at any time of the day (but not the night), either standing around in important conversation or waving impressive paperwork. Most are easily recognised by their plain dress or the uniform designated to the upper ranks, armed with a biro, a bundle of forms and folders and a good deal of importance.

I am guessing there are at least as many paper shufflers on duty as there are people doing actual work.

Are You Alright?


I am undertaking a bit of investigative journalism for you and selflessly submitted myself to the NHS (national health service) and to Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals in particular for solid under cover research.

All in all the experience is a lot better than what media makes us believe. That must be said.

I didn’t experience prolonged waiting for treatment or ambulances, no standing around in cold hallways or wards in disarray. All staff is friendly and helpful, even though some nurses need prompting at times. Don’t you think the dressing needs changing? Don’t you think you could give me some water give that you insist I drink lots of it? Things like that, but all in all good.

The food, however, is everything the media makes us believe. A healthy and balanced nutritious diet seems hard to come by, even if they manage to deliver a whole meal complete and as requested. More often than not, parts are missing. Maybe it is better that way.

One of the Finest Parts

DSC_0239OK, it’s been a while since the last post. We’ve been to the Lake District National Park, mostly around the Northern and Western Lakes, Carlisle and a visit to the coast in Maryport, but based in a cottage just west of Keswick. We’ve been back for a few days already, so now it is time to declare the blog dead or commence posting. With the good wife taking loads of lovely pictures, the decision is easy:

Take a look at the selected 33 images right here, or enjoy all 259 in the ‘all’ subsection. I assure you that every single one is worth taking a look.

To the surprise of everyone, we enjoyed the most glorious weather: sunshine, blue skies, and summery temperatures throughout. However, the nicest surprise is always made to first-time visitors. To my parents, who accompanied us on this trip, Cumbria presented itself in its best mix of gentle lakes, meadows, and rough mountains and valleys.

So many people focus on the Mediterranean for holidays that many simply have no idea what Britain has to offer. Maybe not the reliable temperatures of the Greek islands, the deep blue skies of the Algarve, the food of France or Spain or the exotics of Morocco. However, the  British countryside has a lot of gorgeous areas to offer, and the Lake District is undoubtedly among the finest parts.


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Sleeping Beauty

DSC_0713Happy Easter, everyone. Our wishes arrive late because we took a couple of days off to relax in the Norfolk Broads for canoeing, cycling, walking and chilling out over a good meal.

While the weather wasn’t as good as we had hoped, it certainly was much better than we feared, and we could enjoy all these activities while mostly staying dry, and with only moderate frost bite on fingers, cheeks and toes.

I have always liked the Broads. It’s just so nice to have water everywhere, and given that the area is predominately flat (or flat-ish, as any cyclist will quickly discover), any view is also full of sky, blue if you’re lucky, or leaden otherwise. It’s quite a sight.

Not so much of a sight is the local gastronomy though. I guess we just didn’t discover the highlights, but since we were staying right in the middle of one of the touristic hot-spots, Wroxham, I think the state of the local gastronomy draws a clear picture: several Fish & Chip shops, and a very large McDonald’s. A decent Thai restaurant and an equally decent Indian curry house. Some more take-away places, and two hotel pubs offering Sunday Carvery all day, every day, and two other restaurants. All are either take-away places, or restaurant with varying degrees of aspiration but a delivery that might please an early 1970s customer in terms of menu, attitude, decor – everything except the prices, which were definitely up-to-date.

You’d want to shake the Norfolk tourism officials and entrepreneurs awake, really hard. It’s such a waste!

Here’s one of England’s prime tourist locations, well within the London catchment area for short and long stays. It has everything you’d want: the rural setting, the coast, the relatively stable weather of England’s south-east, water, wildlife, nature, even a bit of culture and history here and there.

You’d want to shake the Norfolk sleepy heads awake and tell them to take advantage of their surroundings, offering waterside cafes and restaurants, and to go after those sitting in their self-catering cottages with local farmers’ markets, artisan produce, a local fish monger and a butcher selling local rare breed pork and beef. A local micro brewery doesn’t seem a far-fetched idea (here’s at least one), and a posh river-side high tea wouldn’t go amiss either.

But no. It’s Tesco (or Roys, who seems to own Norfolk), it’s McDonalds, its Fish and Chip take-away shops. It’s frustrating.


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Not Back in Our Days!

Godolphy and Latymer School (old sign)Back in our days, the pass level for exams was set to meet failure expectations. At least that’s how it was done at university: Only 50% of students were supposed to make it through a particular exam, so that’s where you had to be to pass. Back in grammar school, teachers were expected to mark according to the absolute value of the pupil’s work, regardless of failure or success expectations. However, when a school exam finished exceedingly good or bad, it was put into question, reviewed by a second teacher, and pupils may have to re-sit exams as a result.

I remember that one of our English teachers had to change schools after an uproar, following an exam that repeatedly produced significantly under average results, and also remember having to re-sit an exam because the results were just too good.

Why do I remember this all of the sudden, you wonder?

Because the A-level results for England came out yesterday, with a pass rate of 97.8%, a continuously increasing pass rate over the last 29 years in a row.

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb praised teenagers for their hard work, but I say this isn’t right. It isn’t right for 97.8% of all pupils to pass, as any amateur statistician, sociologist or person with common sense can tell. Surely, a healthy society, so much in demand these days, can’t be run by academics alone. Britain doesn’t need a 100% A-levels pass mark. What really is needed is a proper career path for those not passing these exams, for those choosing a non-academic career, or for those unable to afford an academic career. An officially supported path to a non-academic career, not just some flimsy half-baked training scheme here and there. Did I mention the German model for vocational training yet…?


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Come On England!

Not Miss England, just some kids in Borneo. Also beautiful. Those of you who know me will know that I appreciate beauty, but I am not a follower of beauty contests. However, this one caught my eye, and not limited to the ways you might think:

Rachel Christie, who is currently training on the running track for the 2012 Olympics qualifiers, is among the finalists for Miss England 2009. The competition’s final round is held yesterday and today (July 19th and 20th, 2009) at the London Hilton Metropole Hotel, and I want you all to give a big cheer, touch wood, hold a breath or, if you can, vote for Rachel. She isn’t the only non-white contestant, but she’s generally expected to do well in the competition.

America managed to elect its first ever black president not that long ago.

Surely, Britain should be able to vote for its first ever black Miss England?

 [Edit, 22-July-2009:]

Here you have it. Rachel Christie is Miss England 2009. Well done.

Given that the news came and went more or less unnoticed, I am no longer sure what this means for the black community, or any community. One could say “see, nobody cares that she’s black,” but I think the reality is that nobody cares for Miss England contests. Maybe she gets more publicity winning on the race track. This might just have given her the money to focus on training for the Olympics.


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