Hospital conditions are very different here in Vietnam to what we have in the West. My time training in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital prepared me well for my time here, but there is no denying that essentially conditions here and back home are literally worlds apart. I have had many lengthy discussions with the doctors I have been working with on the subject.

There are some striking similarities though. Not least the eternal problem of too few staff, especially nurses. A common complaint in the NHS in the UK.

Here, however, they get around the problem by getting family members involved in patient care. A simple idea, but one that makes the world of difference in an environment when the nurses are already overstretched. To give an example:

One of my patients in Palliative care, Son, has Spinal Metastasis and is paralysed from the neck down. He has all manner of medical devices including ports to administer pain relief, a feeding tube and various drains. I spent yesterday afternoon doing some massage with him and his mother, Thu.

Once our session had ended, I moved on to the next bed to work with another patient. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as Thu proceeded to change Son’s dressings, clean his medical devices and give him a bed bath, all the time chatting and laughing with a smile on her face. When she needed to turn Son on to his side, family members of neighbouring patients simply stepped in to help. No fuss.

The result: Son was comfortable and cared for, his mother felt involved in his care, rather than a helpless bystander, and the nurses were given the time to do more skilled and technical procedures. My colleague Dr Yen told me that it is standard practice for patients’ family members to be taught how to do simple medical procedures such as giving injections and cleaning medical devices.

A simple idea, but one that works well here where resources, money and staff are limited. Granted, the culture here lends itself much more to families caring for each other in a way that we seem to have lost in the West. Also, there is not the same tendancy to sue each other at the drop of a hat, which obviously helps!

Perhaps we have lost sight of what truly matters in our more “Developed” society and too much time and money in our healthcare system is spent on paperwork and politics. Both systems have their shortcomings, but one thing is for sure, we can only learn from each other.