NHS, Stafford Hospital & More

The NHS is in the news again – on the one hand we see how well the young Pakistani activist, Malala is doing – and obviously her care is excellent. On the other hand the saga of Stafford Hospital gets worse. I watched Newsnight last night and was immediately transported back to the appalling times my father had in a hospital in West Lancashire. I wrote a blog about it in September 2009, after hearing other NHS horror stories. Here it is below…

nursing care in our hospitals


I believe this is far worse than is documented, as reporting various issues to superiors usually means the patient (in a very vulnerable position) will be victimised further. I have friends who are nurses and I have been a patient in some of the best – and arguably some of the worst hospitals. As in all walks of life, there are good and bad, but one rather expects the caring professions to be just that – caring – and compassionate.

Having heard the horror stories over two days, I thought I would try and find the letters I wrote to the senior executive of the hospital where my father died just over nine years ago and one also to the Convener of the particular NHS Trust. I found the letters on an old floppy disk, the hard copies being buried possibly in the loft along with the replies. There are four letters in total, but the saga is so long and distressing that I couldn’t even begin to explain. I wouldn’t expect you to wade through them as they are 17 pages, 11 pages and four pages (plus one just arranging a ’round-the-table meeting’).

My father’s treatment was diabolical, as it had been during a previous admission, though at that time I only documented it in my journal; my father didn’t want any fuss, as ironically, it was the place where he had spent the last 20 years or so years of his working life until he retired at 65. He loved his job at that hospital and was very involved in arranging functions for the staff. If only he had known how they would eventually treat him. Whilst in hospital he contracted a urine infection, from which he developed the kidney failure from which he died. It transpired that he also had collapsed vertebrae that wasn’t investigated, even though he was in agony from back pain.

I vividly remember my first bad experience of that same hospital, when as a young woman, I had my second child there. I thought I was on very friendly terms with the nurses, as one of them had been previously been a work colleague. From a slight misunderstanding, one of the nurses turned on me and spat, ‘Who do you think you are? You – you, are a nobody and I, I, am a staff nurse!’ the patient opposite was horrified and said I should report her to the matron, but of course I couldn’t, because that would have put my dad into a very difficult position, as in his job as a labourer he was frequently working on the wards.

Clearly there were nasty nurses way back in the 60s, but at least the wards were clean back then, visitors were not allowed to sit on beds (at the time I didn’t understand that rule, but of course I do now with all the infections) and from what I recall, I didn’t see nurses wearing their uniforms on the buses or in the shops. From what I’ve seen in recent years many of the nurses spend an awful lot of time trying to land themselves a doctor!

I regret not being disciplined enough to keep a journal more than a few months at a time, but the following is extracted from one I kept before returning to education as a mature student in the summer of 1988


The wind howls outside,

it whistles through the sash windows

and falls on the deaf ears

of my father.

He sits on his hospital bed,

his pyjama legs tucked inside his socks,

a sweater inside his dressing gown.

He’s cold.

His dark eyes sparkle.

He chuckles.

He needs a sense of humour

in this place.

He’s happy with his medication.

So much better than he was

two weeks ago

when I brought him here.

But beneath the smiling mask

is a man longing to be home

for more than the obvious reasons.

He’s frightened;

not of death as he was at first

but of some members of the staff.

He says little,

but I have gleaned a lot.

I have eyes.

I’ve seen

and I’ve heard

and I smell the fear

in the hearts

of these old people.

It’s shameful

that they are treated so badly.

Spoken to in an uncivil manner

by some of the staff.

Not all are guilty;

there are some angels

wearing the familiar uniforms,

but some enjoy the power it brings.

They rule the inmates with an iron fist

My dad refers to one as the sergeant major


she spits at him

as he takes exercise around the ward

(on a normal day my father would walk

several miles to

and from the shops

he goes crown-green bowling

and dances at every opportunity).

Mr Whittle sits there,

His blanket like a cocoon

Around his shoulders

And over his head.

Ask ’em t’ shut window, Bill

He pleads

No, says Dad.

I’m not puttin’ ‘me ‘ed ont chopping block!

I think back

to the snotty bitch

who raised my hackles

on the day Dad was really ill

T’was a sad day.

He was so depressed;

the pain in his neck and head

too much to bear.

He wanted us to leave.

Didn’t want us to see him

so miserable.

I felt sure he would give up;

give up this life he loves so much.

He climbed inside his bed,

the little man

and my mum tucked him in.

I sat at the foot

fighting the tears

that welled up inside.

Stewart by my side

ever comforting.

What’s up with him?

Snarled the hard and cruel voice.

I looked up and saw

What I expected to see.

Hands on hips,

mouth tight and narrow,

teeth clenched.

Her yellow uniform bright and incongruous

on such a tyrant.

I didn’t know at the time

the definition of the colours but,

an Auxiliary, I thought (I knew instinctively).

I was right!

Why must people behave like this?

A kind word costs nothing;

a smile brightens a day.

A moment of impatience can ruin a whole life.*

He’s in pain, I retorted,

wrestling hard with my emotions,

not wanting my voice to croak, the tears to fall.

…and has been since he came in here.

Hmm! He was alright at lunchtime!

Running up and down here he was.

She looked at a passing nurse

for confirmation.

The witch stamped off down the corridor.

Presently a sister looked in

She saw at once that my father

wasn’t well.

She spoke softly

and summoned a nurse

who checked Father’s vital signs.

His temperature had soared.

The glands in his neck

were swollen.

The pain intense.

A doctor came.

The curtains drawn

we sat outside,


A throat infection.

A swab.


More blood taken

but no apology from the primrose god.

Will she ever learn?

Or will she go on

bringing misery

not comfort

into the lives of these gentle folk

who have lived so long

and have so much to offer.

If only one would take the time

and have patience

to listen

to their needs

their fears.

No one invited her comment

In the first place.

No one asked for attention

for my father.

He was suffering in silence,

not wanting to be a nuisance,

not wanting to distract them from their work.

Why did she join this noble profession?

*Chinese wisdom


Behind the screen today

a new patient.

Pains in his chest,

breathing badly,


The doctor was with him,

examining him, taking blood.

She said she would ask the nurse

to take his temperature.

Then she saw from the chart

it was already done.

They’ve not taken my temperature,

said the man.

Are you sure? Asked the doc.

The man was adamant.

I could see she didn’t believe him

But as she left the bay

she collided with the nurse

(roll of eyes)

You did take that patients temperature?

No, I didn’t actually!

(Intake of breath, bemused expression)

But it’s on his chart!

I know, I marked it up by mistake,

I’ll do it now.

I wondered if she would remember… ?


Across the road from my folks was their neighbour, John Peet. This is a short account of his recent experience.


Brought Dad home today.

John Peet called this evening to see how he is.

He told us of his recent stay in hospital;

He was wearing the obligatory name tag

And it was wet and soggy from the bath.

The nurse noticed the number had been

washed off and she duly replaced it.

Mrs Peet arrived to see John

and commented on the new tag.

He went to see the sister.

What’s the problem, Mr Peet?

No problem, I like this ward.

Thank you very much!

Well I’m younger since coming in here

I was 66 when they brought me in.

Now I’m 37

and my name is Jim Forshaw!!!



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Born in Liverpool at the end of WW2, but raised in Skelmersdale. I first studied art in Southport from 1960-63 and worked in graphic design till I married. In December 1969 I moved to Zambia with my husband and two young children. There I taught art in the local girls school, illustrated for the National Correspondence College and did all sorts of other artwork, paid and unpaid. In 1978 I divorced and remarried in the summer of 1980. In 1985 I became ill and the following year cancer was diagnosed. There was no treatment available in Zambia and so I had to go to the UK. After recovering from a radium needle implant I went back to Zambia, but 18 months later the cancer recurred and it was off to the UK again for radical surgery. This time I realised I must stay in the UK where treatment was available, so I never returned to Zambia nor my husband. A few months later I applied for a degree course, but two years later the disease metastasised and I spent most of my final year in and out of hospital. It’s been a long hard road, but I’m still plodding on and it is now 24 years since my last cancer treatment. Because of my experience of cancer and surviving against the odds, I try and help others cope with their devastating diagnosis and prognosis.

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