I mentioned in the middle of last week having a bit of a to-do with Allied Respiratory, the new home oxygen service providers.
At that point, I was mildly full of grumble because I’d cancelled a hospital appointment and spent my entire Thursday waiting in for the oxygen engineer to call round when he’d phoned at 3.30pm to tell me he wouldn’t be coming because the job we’d asked him to do was a 2 hour job and he didn’t have time in his day to do it.
I’d remonstrated with him, and also pointed out the rearranged hospital appointment, at which point he agreed he could at least swing by and drop off a back-up cylinder for the flat and a couple of portables that would at least give me enough oxygen to make my trip to Oxford the next day.
One thing he said did strike a deep note of caution into my brain, though, when he dropped off the portable cylinders telling me I was “lucky” to get them. How can an oxygen provider think it acceptable that a person entirely dependent on oxygen 24 hours a day is told it’s “lucky” for him that the company can provide it? It’s unbelievable.
Further to that, when he told me he’d not be able to come that day, he committed himself to coming to do the job first thing in the morning. However, when he arrived at the flat to drop off the cylinders, I said I’d look forward to seeing him in the morning and his eyes went blank and he clearly hadn’t remembered his “promise”.
In fact, he arrive at nearly 3pm the following day. I’d gone off to Oxford for my check-up and my brother, who should have been making his way back to work in Canterbury, had stayed in my flat waiting for him.
On the whole, then, not a great start to my experiences with Allied. I’d heard murmurings from other users that there had been problems, but hadn’t expected to discover them so quickly, nor to such an extent.
Apparently, they’re chronically short of portable oxygen cylinders. Between the collective brains of myself and a few friends in similar positions to myself, we can’t for the life of us work out why this is suddenly the case. Having taken over the entire oxygen provision operation, why is the service so chronically short of portable cylinders, when previously there was no problem at all getting hold of them under the old, GP-prescribed system?
Today, things have taken another turn, and stoked my ire yet further.
I spoke to Allied yesterday, explaining that I’d been forced into a move to my parents’ house and that I was now out of portables and had no back-up cylinder here. I did manage to bring over my concentrator, but it’s not set up for use in multiple rooms here, which means that rather than being the hub of the O2 system as it is at home, it’s now in effect merely a static, bottom-less cylinder.
They told me that because of the change of address I’d have to submit a whole new load of oxygen request paperwork from my GP before they could process an order, as they couldn’t do anything without it. Luckily, my GP practice is outstanding, and got straight on to it, dealing with them direct and putting in an urgent request to have the oxygen delivered that day.
I received a call from Allied in the afternoon, telling me that they wouldn’t be able to do the delivery today (yesterday), but that they could set it up for tomorrow (today). I explained that as I was now out of portables, it would need to be in the morning if it was being delayed. She assured me that she would put me down for an a.m. delivery.
Imagine my surprise (or sad lack of it, so cynical have I become in such a short space of time) then, when today saw no hint of an engineer’s call all morning and still none by 2pm this afternoon.
I phoned Allied. It looks like the order had been booked on their system for next week, would that be OK? I took a breath and calmly explained that no, that’s not really OK and today is what they’d agreed and today is what I expected.
She checked the order and told me that I could probably get the back up cylinders (that’s the large ones that sit in a corner or cupboard and are hard to move around) today, but that portable ones were unlikely.
I explained, as patiently and calmly as I could, that this meant I would be unable to leave the house until their next delivery. She said she understood and she apologised.
Frankly, I think that it’s only my high levels of tiredness and low levels of energy that stopped me shouting down the phone this time, which is good because I don’t like to shout at people on the phone.
I know it’s not their fault and they’re just doing their jobs from a call centre somewhere in Surrey. But it’s hard not to be riled when someone behind a computer screen is telling you that you’re not going to be allowed to go out this weekend because they screwed up their bookings and now couldn’t supply your needs.
Even more surprisingly, they don’t deliver on weekends, so there’s not even any hope of getting anything tomorrow.
To her credit, the lovely-sounding girl on the phone went away and spoke to the engineer working in my area today and chased up whether he had any spare portables “on board” which he could drop with me when he dropped the back-up off. In fact, he does and I’ve now been assured he will.
But that just underlines the ludicrous nature of the service and the system they have in place. Clearly, they have no way of telling what oxygen is where, they have no tracking system of cylinders, both full and empty. The whole service is shoddy and I have no idea how they propose to rectify the situation, but something really needs to be done, and soon.
It seems hugely ironic that the day after I write an article for the Guardian preaching about making the most of the time I’ve got left, that I find myself house-bound at the whim and the mercy of an oxygen delivery system that doesn’t appear to know it’s portable from it’s concentrator. To put it nicely.
I wait – not with baited breath, because that would be too much effort – to see what becomes of this afternoon’s assured delivery, and wonder how on earth I’m going to meet my increasing demand for oxygen as my chest improves on the new antibiotics and steroids and I want to get out and about more and more.
UPDATED 01/12/06 19:00:
What a fuss over nothing.
The muppets in front of the computer screen may have been able to cock up the proverbial piss up in a drink manufacturing plant, but the engineer couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful.
We weren’t given an arrival time, and were getting somewhat anxious as 5 o’clock rolled around, thinking that they usually finish on office hours. A swift phone call to Central again reveal he was on call all night, thought and that he would definitely be coming along tonight.
Just before 7 he called looking for directions from the top of the road (no one can ever find my ‘rents’ house) and walked in with one half-size back-up cylinder (half-size being slightly misleading considering it’s actually about 3 foot tall and REALLY heavy) and two of the nice little white portable cylinders (the ones that are actually light enough for me to carry).
When he asked if there was anything else he could do, I chanced my arm and volleyed for some more portables. He said he wasn’t sure how many of the white ones he had, but he definitely had a load of the little black ones (the portable, but slightly heavier ones). He toddled back to his van and returned with 2 more white ones and 2 black ones.
I also explained how it would be good to have a back-up cylinder upstairs as well as down, if that was possible, and he immediately went back out to the van to get me another one.
So after all the huffing and puffing of the last 24 hours with Allied at their call centre, I’ve ended up with exactly what I asked for – 2 back-up cylinders and 6 portables to replace my spent ones, all delivered to my new address.
But why did we have to go on the merry-go-round of phone calls we’ve exchanged since yesterday, where they’ve told me this isn’t possible, that’s not possible, I can’t have anything till next week, I an only have one back-up, I can’t have portables. It seems like a chronic failure in communication across the board.
The engineer was so nice and friendly and completely accomodating – nothing was too difficult, he never once made a face like it might be hard to do something. He brought everything in, sorted it out and helped with everything I needed.
Why oh why do Allied make it so tough on themselves and so stressful for the patients?
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