Real life

Education, spiritual guidance and a good cappuccino: the new face of the NHS

17 November 2018

9:00 AM

17 November 2018

9:00 AM

Left at the Dementia Café, right at the Sleep Office, past the Spiritual Care Centre…

This was my journey through the ground floor of my local hospital until I came to the physiotherapy department where the Calf Stretching Education Group was being held.

Hospitals are very different places nowadays from the forbidding buildings of my childhood where doctors and nurses in starched uniforms used to attempt to cure people.

Now they host Costa Coffee shops and M&S mini food halls and art exhibitions along the walls, which you peruse in spite of yourself as you pass these marvellous new departments. You wonder what happens at the Dementia Café and the Sleep Office and the Spiritual Care Centre.

But mostly you get the feeling that healthcare has evolved to be about empowering people to feel good about dying. No more starched, old-fashioned curing. Hospitals provide education, enlightenment, spiritual guidance and a good cappuccino.

They offer you the opportunity to take control of your condition, to pick up your infirmity and, well, run with it. If you can run.

I ran all the way down the corridor past the Sleep Office and the Spiritual Care Centre because I was ten minutes late for the Calf Stretching Education Group.

It had taken a while to check my car in to the car park by typing my registration on to a screen. Then, once I got to the physio department, I had to check myself in on another screen.

And by then the group had started. A receptionist came off the phone and told me to follow her. After a while of us walking past rooms and her saying ‘Oo, I don’t know, I think it might be in here, but then again I don’t think it is’, I decided to just fling open the door to a small gymnasium.

‘Calf Stretching?’ I asked a nurse sitting in front of a whiteboard as three women and one man sat on plastic chairs in front of her looking marooned.


‘Yes!’ she said, welcoming me in. I went to sit in the second row next to an old lady leaning on a walking cane who looked murderous.

I imagine if you get to a grand age and your GP responds to you being crippled by sending your calves for re-education you’re going to be on the verge of poking someone in the face with your cane. So I left a seat’s space between us.

The nurse was telling everyone how the gastrocnemius (calf) muscles work, with a view to understanding how incorrect walking techniques lead to tight calves, which impact on the feet producing problems such as bunions.

It was, on the face of it, rather embarrassing. But I don’t think our bunions were, actually, the result of our own recalcitrant tightness, for we all looked rather fit, apart from the old woman leaning on her cane.

No. I think the reason we were there was that some management consultant had discovered an algorithm proving that if the NHS stops doing bunion ops and starts doing calf stretching education groups it can save millions of pounds.

And so after a lengthy lecture about how to walk, we were told to take off our shoes in order to practise on the calf stretching boards.

At this point, the old lady stormed very slowly out, grunting something about how she really had to get on — with hobbling on her bunions, presumably.

The rest of us removed our shoes and stood on the boards and two nurses — for another had appeared — now explained the finer points of calf stretching.

They really were lovely, these nurses. They were polite, sweet, pretty and endlessly patient. When one of the women wouldn’t stop talking about her feet, the lovely nurses just kept smiling and being polite and sweet long after the rest of us had decided we wanted to stick her feet where the sun didn’t shine. But these nurses went on being sweet. Sweet about her feet.

They were sweet about my feet too. They couldn’t have shown more forbearance in helping me learn how to stand on a calf stretching board. I was impressed. I have not felt this welcome in a hospital for a long time.

Finally, the lead physio wound the session to a close by declaring: ‘So, do this for three months and your condition will be resolved.’

‘You mean I won’t have a bunion anymore?’ I asked.

‘No, you’ll still have a bunion,’ she said.

‘Oh. So resolved in what sense?’ I asked.

‘Resolved as in not any worse.’

‘Great!’ I said, and I almost meant it.

I have not been cured of my bunion in a clean, tidy, well-run hospital by courteous, friendly staff.

And in the current climate, I am rating that experience as excellent.

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