Dr Phil Hammond, broadcaster and sessional GP in Bristol

Be proud to be part of the NHS and what it does

Ah, the joys of being middle class. Having confidently diagnosed end-stage cleaning failure in our ageing (but deeply loved) washing machine, we decided to do the decent thing and order a new one online from John Lewis, paying them an extra tenner to take Bessie away and save us an emotional trip to the dump, and the inevitable back spasm caused by leaving her by the wrong skip and being asked to move her by the über-efficient dump monitor.

John Lewis is notoriously efficient, so I only had to hand wash my gentleman’s underlinen for 5 days before the excitement of the new delivery. We dressed Bessie up in her finest bubble-wrap and waited in expectantly all morning. The courteous drivers phoned at midday to say there had been, ‘A slight delay Sir,’ but they were less than an hour away. At 17.30, we were still without Baby Bessie (same model, of course) so we decided to call the online-delivery woman: ‘Your washing machine was delivered this afternoon. And signed for.’

We did a quick scout round the back of the stables to see if we could spot her, but nothing. I regularly forget where the car keys are and whether I’ve seen a particular patient before, but I’ve yet to reach the stage of signing for a washing machine and then losing all recollection within the space of an afternoon. So Jo and I put our diagnostic hats back on and decided the drivers must have delivered to one of our neighbours who share a noun in their house name. But who would sign for a washing machine they hadn’t ordered and weren’t expecting? My money was on the teenage son.

We live in Noun* House, over the road from The Nouns and up from Noun Cottage. Satnav is less satellite-guided and more pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in rural Somerset. Tesco has left our groceries on Noun Cottage’s doorstep before, and we’ve had a very nice consignment of wine meant for The Nouns (note to self: I must return it before it’s all gone). Jo tried The Nouns to no avail, leaving me to solve the riddle. The first clue was a builders’ van outside Noun Cottage.

To be fair to the builders, they were home alone, redoing the kitchen, so it was feasible that a new washing machine might be on its way. And the name, as well as the address, was not too dissimilar on a cursory glance at the label. It’s just a pity that they let the driver take away our neighbours’ perfectly good and much-loved washing machine, Mavis, for scrap.

John Lewis is the king of customer service, and as well as recovering our washing machine, it paid us £50 for the inconvenience and gave our neighbours a brand new Mavis within a week. It’s ironic that this should happen to doctors, because this is precisely how mistakes happen in the NHS. A locum surgeon comes to work on an unfamiliar ward staffed by agency nurses and removes the wrong leg from a sleeping patient with a similar name in the third bed up on the right, while a distant relative signs the consent form.

In the NHS, we’d probably deny all knowledge of the mistake, burn the notes, bury the X-rays, and see you in court. But John Lewis is so good at handling its mistakes—it has reinforced my loyalty to its brand. There is a lesson here: the John Lewis’ strap line is, ‘A great place to work, a great place to shop’, and they’re proud of it. The NHS strap line is, ‘An OK place to work most of the time, but I’m not sure I’d want to be a patient.’ We should be proud of what we do, and proud to do it well. Even if it’s an apology.G

*Noun changed to protect our lovely neighbours from further grief caused by us


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