So I'm currently registered at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone. When the traffic is good, it's about a 15 minute drive from our house. When the traffic is bad, it can be an hour. Hey ho, I guess that's London.
We actually have a nearer hospital - King George's. But my GP was reluctant to refer me there, because when they get full, they overspill to Romford, which has a bit of a crap history of accidentally killing quite a lot of women in labour.
So, as I've hardly been wowed so far by Whipps Cross, I thought the most sensible thing to do would to be to do a tour of both of them. I'm already booked in with Whipps Cross, so I called King George's this morning.
"Hello," I said. "I'd like to book a tour of your maternity wards."
"Are you a patient here?" the member of staff asked.
"No, not yet, but I might be interested in registering," I said.
"I'm sorry," she replied, "but our tours are only for patients who are registered with us."
"But I would like to see the facilities before deciding if I'd like to become a patient or not," I reasoned.
"You can do our virtual tour online," she said.
"Yes," I said through gritted teeth, "but I'd like to have the opportunity to ask questions and to see what it's really like rather than just a series of photos."
"I'm sorry, we don't do that."
"So you're telling me," I argued, losing my temper just a tiny bit, "that although you are my nearest hospital, that I live in your borough and pay taxes... you're telling me I'm forbidden from entering this public building to see facilities I might want to use?"
"Let me get a manager," she said.
And she did. The manager also tried to dissuade me, explaining they didn't have any tours available for "non-patients" for ages (mid-April as it turns out), but she did at least (albeit reluctantly) book me on a tour.
I'm not impressed with either hospital at the moment. Whipps Cross has a switchboard system meaning you need to get through to main reception before dialling your extension. For the last three days, this switchboard has been engaged constantly. I don't mean occasionally. I mean it is literally impossible to speak to anyone at the hospital because there are no direct dial numbers and the switchboard is jammed.
When I finally got through at 4.57 p.m. I got a two-minute recorded message telling me which wards were closed owing to norovirus (great), and then found out all the maternity staff had clocked off early.
Home birth, anyone?