The other day I described how I’d needed to make yet another trip to hospital after tipping my wheelchair over and fracturing my elbow.
The hospital staff were great – friendly, efficient and skilled. But I was surprised by how many of them directed questions and gave information to my support worker Zoë, rather than to me.
One receptionist went on doing this even after I’d specifically asked her to speak to me. When she took no notice after I’d asked her a second time, Zoë reminded her to talk to me. When she replied ‘I am talking to her’, Zoë said ‘But you’re still looking at me!’
This has happened in many other settings but what surprised me on this occasion was that it happened several times over a short period, not just once.
I appreciate that NHS staff often work in pressurised, hectic environments where communicating information quickly is key. But it’s also crucial not to make assumptions, and to treat each person as an individual. This is especially important at times when pain or shock might make people they’re not fully in control. Being talked about as if you’re not there feels particularly upsetting.
So, regardless of where you work, what’s happening, or what you perceive a someone’s level of understanding to be, do speak directly to them, and avoid making assumptions.
I can’t imagine anyone ever being offended by being addressed directly and included in a conversation. But believe me, it feels very weird to be answering personal questions while the person asking them looks fixedly at someone else.