I was meeting some girlfriends for a coffee the other day, and we agreed that whilst during the pandemic, we kept in touch via Zoom and FaceTime, we missed meeting up in person – the personal touch. As humans, we need to touch or look other humans in the eye, at least not via a computer or mobile phone.
I wandered off from the coffee morning and chuckled about some of the things we had chatted about; I won’t go into detail if you read this before the watershed hour! And then I saw the pitiful empty building that once housed our local branch of Barclays. This caused me to reminisce about the days when I had a very affable and friendly bank manager whom I would often see when I popped into my local branch and chatted with him. This personal touch made such a difference when it came to negotiating an overdraft! My parents had an even more deep-rooted relationship with their bank manager, who would often be at their lunch parties or social gatherings. He was part of the local community.
Since 2015 almost half the bank branches have closed, along with most Post Offices.
I remember seeing elderly people queuing in their local Post Office for their weekly pension and having quite a chat with the staff behind the counter, and no one in the queue was irritated because we knew that was their minute of ‘personal touch’.
But those days are gone, the pension drops into your bank account, and we are now left hanging on the phone for any queries. Life has become so automated, and we are all spending hours on calls listening to ‘music’ waiting to speak to someone and probably giving up as a recorded message encourages us to go online with our query as it will be quicker. I don’t think it is any quicker, but it gives the online operators one less headache to deal with. Machines have taken the place of staff, and banks do everything they can to avoid any real contact with their customers.
What about the option buttons? How many times does your problem not come under one of the options offered, so you end up pressing the button for any other query, then waiting for an age for someone to speak to and finally being told you need a different department and then getting cut off when they try to transfer you. So it’s back to the beginning, or maybe just a sigh and give up.
It’s not just financial institutions that are giving us the cold shoulder and shying away from direct contact. It is also doctors. I have no idea who my doctor is at my surgery as before Covid; I was just allocated a doctor for the day I had an appointment. Now I cannot get a doctor’s appointment – GPs see just 55% of patients face-to-face. Consultations are conducted online, and diagnosing is often done by sending a photo of the ailment.
As our regular readers know, I recently broke my wrist in Corfu. A doctor came to our villa within 30 minutes of the call, and it was a Sunday. He gave me a thorough examination, a painkilling and anti-inflammatory injection and called the local chemist to ensure they had the prescribed drugs.
I am now at the six-week stage, and I should be able to throw my splint away and get on with life, BUT my wrist does not bend or rotate in one direction, and it b****y hurts! So, where am I with the NHS? About two weeks ago, they rang, and a lovely nurse said, “keep the splint on for two weeks and then take it off and see how you go.” See how you go didn’t seem exact or entirely medical in its instruction. Can I drive? If the pain level is, say, a 4 out of 10, then should I ….. well, actually, what should I do? But the nurse was gone, and I was left to my own diagnosis.
I then received a letter giving me the option to leave a message on a message facility requesting a SIFU (Self-Initiated Follow up) if I think I need it. The letter made a SIFU sound like it was for those who are worriers or, dare I say, the hypochondriacs amongst us. All I want to know is, is this normal? I don’t want to Google and read endless differing accounts. I just want a person to look at my wrist and tell me whether this pain will eventually cease, but I don’t want to bother them unnecessarily as I know the NHS is stretched, and quite frankly, a fractured wrist is hardly life-threatening. Needless to say, I am just getting on with it or seeing how I go, and if need be, I will go to my local Minor Injuries unit as they seem more hands-on.
Unsurprisingly, I understand thousands of those who can afford it are now abandoning the NHS and booking themselves in for private treatment. Is our NHS so broken? Anyway, that is a whole other debate and one that people cleverer than I have no solution to.
Back to my automation concerns. My next beef is with travel agents, or rather the lack of. They are sadly a dying breed. My husband and I want to take a trip incorporating stops at many different places. I have been Googling, asking friends etc., for any recommendations. But at the end of the day, I would just like someone to piece it together and give me an itinerary. I want to sit at a desk with a travel agent to discuss our trip and get some proper advice from the experts. I don’t want to travel to London to go to Trailfinders, who I know are brilliant, so my only option is to talk to them on the phone or via email. I want to see them and more importantly for them to see us, to see that we are active, mobile 60 and 70 somethings so don’t send us on a trip catering for those who just want to sit. We don’t just want five* accommodation and a beach holiday, we want to see the real country, meet the people, and eat authentic food.
The young are quite content with this new way of shopping, banking, and organising a holiday; human interactions do not exist, which previous generations took for granted. They won’t regret the change as they never knew how it was. Their whole lives are organised through their mobile phone. I am not saying that automation is not very helpful at times, but every now and then, I hark back to days gone by and wish for a little more face-to-face interaction.
P.S. I gather the Chinese are successfully working on robots to replace GPs.