'The NHS is at breaking point': One mother's experience of trying to get her baby medical help

George, who is one, was told the nearest bed that could take him was Berlin. Credit: Family photo
  • Blog by Granada Reports producer Rachel Mairs

Being told your one-year-old son has a possibly life threatening virus, but there is no bed for him in hospital has got to be one of the worst conversations I've ever had.

George had contracted something called Eczema Herpeticum, a rare virus found only in people who have eczema, but where their skin is quickly covered in painful blisters.

It can be fatal if it spreads to the organs.

George, I was told, had four of the five risk-factors associated with those complications.

Rachel, her husband and George were later moved into their emergency mental health bay to give them some privacy. Credit: Family photo

As I sat in an A&E corridor - where we had been for nine hours - the doctor kept apologising that they hadn't got to us sooner, but that they were simply overwhelmed.

He, in fact, wasn't even an A&E or paediatric doctor, but usually worked in a different department drafted over to the Children's A&E waiting room because they were so busy.

He explained George needed antiviral medicine as a matter of urgency on an IV drip - it would be another two hours and several frustrated pleas later that those antivirals finally arrived.

The doctor went on to tell me they needed to be repeated every six hours for several days, along with antibiotics and pain relief every four hours, but it was unlikely we would get a bed somewhere that night, so we should stay put.

George is like most one-year-olds, desperate to grab anything he shouldn't have, climbing on any available surface and falling into fits of giggles at the drop of a hat, but instead he lay flopped in his pram, crying in pain at any slight movement and drifting in and out of sleep.

As I looked across to my usually boisterous little boy, I couldn't help feel like I was somehow failing him as his mum because he couldn't get the care he needed.

Later that night, we were moved into their emergency mental health bay, a small room with a door that can't close, no curtains or blinds on the windows and a clear glass panel out to the A&E corridor for all to see in.

A kind nurse found a cot for George to rest in and told us we could stay there for 24 hours maximum, but at least it would give us a little privacy.

We were in fact there for almost four days.

George contracted called Eczema Herpeticum - a rare virus which quickly covers the skin in painful blisters and can be fatal. Credit: Family picture

A&E departments are not set up to provide ongoing specialist care. It is a simple fact, but their jobs are to patch up and refer on.

The staff were doing everything they could for George, but they and the systems they have in place simply weren't built to look after him.

Due to restrictions of keeping just one parent in A&E at all times, my husband and I did shifts so someone was always there.

Those shifts would often result in us having to go and physically stand in corridors and staff hubs to remind them George was due his medicine or needed his IV changing or his cannula had come out and needed replacing.

I stress though, none of this was the staff's fault, they were doing everything they could as well as keeping up with the actual job they were there to do.

In our time in A&E, I regularly spoke to staff who had skipped breaks, worked several hours beyond their shift and even saw a nurse in tears simply because they were so stretched.

One senior nurse told me in 35 years in the NHS this was the worst week she had ever known.

George needed antiviral medicine as a matter of urgency on an IV drip. Credit: Family photo

Every morning and evening, someone would come in to apologise and explain there were no beds anywhere that could take George.

They first started looking across Greater Manchester, then the North West, then nationally and even at one point internationally when we were told on their database the only hospital showing they could take a sick child was in Berlin.

At midnight on Friday, 60+ hours after we first arrived, the doctor came to tell us they needed the room we were in.

The only solution was to send George home with his cannula still in place and for us to bring him back to A&E every seven hours for him to get his IV and then return home again.

We are lucky, we don't live too far from the hospital - a round trip, plus his hour-long infusion, shouldn't take longer than two hours - leaving us five hours between to try to eat and get some rest.

However, only in the middle of the night was that possible, as during the day we would return to see the same staff pushed to breaking point and again be left having to fight to get George the medicine he needed.

Luckily after several days, George became well enough to move onto oral medication we could give him at home meaning we no longer had to keep going into hospital.

We have been warned it could take up to a year before his skin is fully healed, but each day he is showing signs of improvement.

Unfortunately that isn't the case for the NHS and the frontline staff who are being pushed and stretched to breaking point trying to provide the best care they possibly can under extremely difficult circumstances.

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