Playing loosey-goosey with patient safety

3 minute read

Call me pedantic, but I like someone qualified to be the one delivering my healthcare.

Recently my partner and I rocked up at our local general practice for its Saturday morning flu vaccination clinic.

On duty were a nurse at the front door, sorting the sheep from the goats symptom-wise, and a two-handed operation going on in a consult room off the jam-packed waiting room.

We are regulars at this practice, and we knew it wasn’t our GP on duty but one of the senior partners, who we knew by name but had never met.

After an entertaining 20 minutes spent watching jolly old people coming out with their lollypops, and joining in the collective “awwwws” at the sound of tiny people getting needled and not enjoying it one bit, it was our turn and in we went.

Inside was an older woman in scrubs and a mask, and a younger woman in civvies, sitting at the computer. For some reason I assumed Scrubs was the nurse and Civvies was a junior doctor slash registrar. That was the set-up I had encountered last time I got a flu vax.

I was wrong.

“Hi, I’m Dr Scrubs,” said Scrubs.

“And this is …” What my brain wanted to hear next (“registrar”) didn’t arrive but what did was: “… my daughter, who is helping me out today”.

Small talk ensued in which the now-obvious high school kid at the computer made a culturally inappropriate comment about my partner’s surname – “wow, it’s like random Scrabble letters”.

Dr Scrubs bayoneted my partner’s arm with the last dose in the box, turned to the kid and said, “Go and get me another box of [insert flu vax brand name here] please.”

Now, if I had been properly awake instead of slightly resentful of the fact that I was dipping out on my Saturday morning sleep-in for the sake of my health, I may have piped up at this point and said, “Actually, could someone qualified go and get the potentially toxic substance you’re about to inject into my arm, please.”

But I didn’t. The kid came back with a box that looked like the empty box Dr Scrubs had just put in the bin. Twenty seconds later it was being poured into my bloodstream.

Was it the right dose? Was it within use-by date? Had it come out of the vaccine fridge or had it been sitting somewhere a bit too warm?

Buggered if I know.

Luckily there was no adverse reaction. But what if there had been? And what if I had been the litigious sort who doesn’t understand the pressures of staffing clinics in flu season?

Sometimes we do dumb things without thinking too much about consequences. Sometimes we do things a little bit loosey-goosey because we’re so used to the systems being safe that we think a little bit of relaxation can’t possibly do any harm.

Systems are safe for a reason. And they protect the doctor as well as the patient.

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