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…
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.
His dark eyes sparkle.
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.
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.
and I’ve heard
and I smell the fear
in the hearts
of these old people.
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
GET BACK TO THE DAY ROOM
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
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
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
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,
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
The witch stamped off down the corridor.
Presently a sister looked in
She saw at once that my father
She spoke softly
and summoned a nurse
who checked Father’s vital signs.
His temperature had soared.
The glands in his neck
The pain intense.
A doctor came.
The curtains drawn
we sat outside,
A throat infection.
More blood taken
but no apology from the primrose god.
Will she ever learn?
Or will she go on
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 their needs
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?
Behind the screen today
a new patient.
Pains in his chest,
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!!!