The consultant's positive response to my stammer

A woman standing by the River Thames, smiling for the camera
Christine (courtesy of Rory Sheridan)

Speaking to staff in the health sector hasn't always been a good experience for Christine Simpson. But here she tells us about a recent visit where space was made for her stammer.

Over the years I have had quite a bit of experience of navigating the NHS with my stammer. This has been both as a carer and making my own appointments with my advancing age. I have had good experiences but also a few difficult ones, some serious enough to contact the particular department to complain. 

I have always found the experience I get is down to the person I talk to. I've had good and bad experiences with doctors, nurses and admin staff. One consultant told me to just answer yes or no to his questions. He didn't want to wait for my explanation. Not good when describing symptoms. On another occasion I had a phone conversation with a woman on an NHS helpline. When I told her it wasn't acceptable to laugh at me stammering, she replied, "You see, you can talk perfectly well when you want to". Another unhelpful response was from someone on an appointments line who told me I wasn't making any sense. What I hate most is when people ask me if they can talk to someone else. I usually say, "No, you need to listen to me!".

Best practice

However, I wanted to share a positive experience of the NHS I had a few months ago. I went to a hospital appointment and explained about my stammer and what was helpful for me. The consultant was really good, gave me time and really listened. At the end I thanked her and said that this was not always my experience. She then suggested she add a note to my record that I should have a double appointment in future so that I can say all I want to.

The fact remains that if someone who stammers is too frightened to contact the NHS, that could have very serious consequences for their health and wellbeing.

This is what she said in the letter to my GP: "As a side note, we have discussed today about Christine's requirement for additional time in clinic to be able to express herself fully given her speech impediment. I have explained that we should make every effort to accommodate this and that she should not feel pressurised, given the additional time she needs to communicate effectively. To this end I would be grateful if she could have a double slot booked for the next follow up, so that there is enough time to discuss things in a respectful manner".

I was so happy to see this. The consultant's actions were best practice. 

However, the update on this is that when my next appointment came, the consultant's request had not been acted on so I got the usual length appointment. The consultant recommended that I take it up with the hospital's Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). I will do that but I worry how much effort it takes to get a reasonable adjustment like this. I'm sure we all know the huge pressures that health professionals are under at present, but the fact remains that if someone who stammers is too frightened to contact the NHS, that could have very serious consequences for their health and wellbeing. I am retired and I know about complaining (I used to respond to complaints for our library service), so can spend time on these issues. Most people will give up far sooner and potentially not get the service they need. 

What is great is that STAMMA now has an Advocacy Service, and this sort of complaint is just what it has been set up for. So, if you have bad experiences with the NHS, or with any other service, organisation or institution, contact the Advocacy Service and they will do their best to help you.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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