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Nurses cried over quality of care at Mid Staffs

Nurses were brought to tears by the care being given to patients on some wards at Stafford Hospital, the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust was told last week.

Witness Sandra Whitehouse described meeting two nurses in April 2007, three months after her 83 year old mother Joan Morris died at the hospital.

The meeting was called in response to complaints by Ms Whitehouse, a day centre manager who had spent time training as a nurse cadet, about the care her mother received during her month long stay.

She described meeting with the two nurses in a “broom cupboard” where they “burst into tears” and told her there were no nurses on a named ward from 1pm-3pm.

She said angrily: “For two qualified nurses to sit down in front of you and cry, you know, who were they crying for? Were they ashamed of what they’d done to my mum? Because I know if I’d have been a nurse – and when I was a nurse, I would have hung my cloak up there and then.”

“They were crocodile tears. They weren’t sincere tears… they’ve got no right to cry. They hadn’t earned that right to cry. They hadn’t. They were insulting me. They were insulting my mum.

“It’s like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”

However, another witness –Beverley Howell – told of how nurses had encouraged her to complain about the care of her father in the hope that management would take note.

Ms Howell said: “There was one member of staff there at night that we expressed concerns to, and [they] said ‘I go home at night in tears because I can’t do the job properly’…

“When my father was on the ward and I spoke to the nurse, I said I wasn’t happy and I was going to complain, and she begged me to complain. She said ‘If you complain it will help us.’”

The inquiry is expected to last into the middle of next year.

Readers' comments (13)

  • "Were they ashamed of what they’d done to my mum? "

    They didn't do anything to your mum. Short staffing did. If I left you as the only Nurse for a large number of vulnerable patients most of them would be completely neglected FOR HOURS. Even if you were the most compassionate Nurse in the world and I had a gun to your head as well. It is physically impossible to do it. Shame on you for leaving your mum on a ward with no staff and expecting one to one care.

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  • 'Shame on you for leaving your mum on a ward with no staff and expecting one to one care.'
    Anna, that response is truly appalling. Where is your humanity and care? You have no understanding or compassion for someone who has lost their mother in questionable circumstances to put it most diplomatically, and is quite rightly angry, upset, and grieving. She is absolutely right to be questioning what was going on. Who do you think you are to speak to someone like that and think its ok to pile of any guilt, shame and grief she may already be feeling?

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  • I must agree with Anna regarding this issue. It was not the nurses fault but short staffing that did this. It appears to be a common issue throughout the UK. The lady in the article states that she would have hung up her cloak there and then. What a fantastic attitude for someone who claims to have been a nurse. How would this have helped with the staffing problem or her mother. It would have left the patients in an even more compromising position. Nurses get so frustrated that it brings them to tears. I have ended up in the same situation myself and was off sick with stress following the incident. The general public expect us to care, and we do, to the point of idiocy sometimes, working above and beyond our duties because the ward needs to be covered. How dare this woman say they were crocodile tears, I understand that she lost her mother and that is a tradegy but the nurses do what they can within government constraints. These constraints are getting tighter and tighter. It used to be one nurse for eight patients when I qualified, it now appears to be one nurse to fifteen. This issue needs to be addressed and soon, otherwise there will be more than one Stafford

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  • I ahve watched my own mum and gran die in appalling circumstances. I did not blame health care professionals for not having magical powers to astroproject and be 100 places at once. I dealt with the real issues and brough about changes.

    What does the public want from these nurses? They are not going to be able to be the sole nurse for a large group of patients with no support from pharmacy, admin, equipment etc and provide good care. It should be obvious that blaming the Nurses for things they cannot control is never going to solve anything!

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  • Anna's response might be apalling but she did put the main point across as also highlighted by Anonymous | 7-Dec-2010 11:37 am.
    i think we should also encourage families to help whenever possible. i get annoyed at times when through out the 4hrs visiting time [2hrs noon & 2hrs in the evening], 5 people can sit around patient chatting and catching up but ignore the patient & cant even offer a drink.

    nurses cant do it all... when there are 5members of staff we are expected to provide very quality care, & when there are 3 due to understaffing the same quality is still expected.

    i havent read much about the Mid Staffs but i would like to know how true it is that 'there were no nurses on a named ward from 1pm-3pm'. i also think staff can be unprofessional in sharing information with patients and their families at times. i have heard staff telling families how they are not feeling very well, about staffing levels, sicknesses etc

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  • "“They were crocodile tears. They weren’t sincere tears… they’ve got no right to cry. They hadn’t earned that right to cry. They hadn’t. They were insulting me. They were insulting my mum.

    "

    Unforgivable and very stupid comment. I am not afraid to say it.

    Those Nurses would have been working 12-14 hour shifts without breaks in a hellish situation. I am sorry but there is no excuse for the public these days. It is pretty sick to blame Nurses on a short staffed ward for lapses in care. As a matter of fact, if the public was more intelligent things would change, because hospital management wouldn't get away with their BS. I would sure like to see this woman take on 19 acutely ill patients and keep all of them alive and cared for......

    As long as the public is going to blame short staffed Nurses, nothing will improve. Things will actually get worse.

    How many hundreds of incident forms have we nurses filled in that have gone unanswered? How many hundreds of phone calls have we made to the NMC and the UNions that have been ignored? Have many hundreds of letters have we written to the media that get ignored? How many statistics have we posted about how nurse patient ratios affect patient care? How many meetings have we had with matrons, chief nurses, medical managers etc have we had to try and tell them that we could not function on these wards? How many?

    Every single thing that the frontline Nurses have done to try and fix this situation in our hospitals has been ignored!!! And we have done a lot. But you rpobably don't hear about it because it all gets ignored.



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  • Anoymous I believe that by law the hospitals should have to post the ward staffing for that shift right next to the current ratio research that shows that anymore than one RN to 4 patients violently increases mortality rates. I also think we need to educated these people about what Nurses do. Currently, the public believes that a staff Nurse can take time to provide basic care without killing her other patients. That is a dumb belief to have.

    And this situation is what it is because of advances in healthcare and economics. It is not like this because of "degree nurses who don't care". As we speak over 80% of NHS British Staff Nurses trained under the old system.

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  • I can understand the anger and hurt that Sandra Whitehouse felt and probably still feels.

    Unfortunately it is a fact of life that it is the front-line staff who generally have to take the flak, and it is nurses who are the front-line.

    What l have not been unable to understand during this whole sorry saga, is why the nursing staff who were effected by the situation, did not rasie their concerns with their Trade Unions or Members of Parliament.

    Perhaps the insidious manner in which the problems evolved contributed to the lack of meaningful action being taken by the front-line staff.

    It takes a degree of bravery on the part of staff to stand up for the rights of patients when there are serious issues effecting patient care. It also takes a lot of support from Tracde Unions to make sure that those who have genuine concerns can express those concerns without fear.

    Perhaps these days we are not training and developing the type of nurses who will stand up and palce the rights of their patients, before their own personal interests.

    I can remember back in the 1970's the courage of nurses at a hospital called St Augustine's and the manner in which the they brought the bad practice for long stay psychiatric patients to the attention of the general public, and they were not the only ones.

    Nurse must be prepared to stand up and be counted, if they don't then they only have themselves to blame for the backlash that will inevitably come. But Unions must also be prepared to take up these issues on their behalf and to protect as far as possible the identity of those who are prepared to complain.

    I await the outcome of this inquiry which l am sure will be just.

    My hopes are that a just report will enable grieving relatives to know that they have been able to protect future services, not only for the people of Staffordshire, but across the UK.

    That Trusts accept any legitimate failings on their part, and that they are prevented from working in the Health Care industry in the future.

    That Trade Unions have the opportunity to examine their role in the events as they unfolded, and ensure that their members are supported, not just by rhetoric but by direct action.

    That those nurses, who may be considered to have failed in their responsibilities are dealt with fairly.

    That the previous governement, who still had ultimate responsibilty for services for the NHS, also accept their role in this sad situation and pay the price in financial terms for any failings on their part.

    That the current government review the policy, implimented in the Thatcher years of the 1980's, where the main thrust of provisions of service was based on economic factors rather than quality of care.

    Decision making must go back to consensus management, between Medical, Nursing and Administrative staff. We need a strong nursing management structure, with protection for those leaders who are prepared to stand up for quality, rather than meeting targets.

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  • "What l have not been unable to understand during this whole sorry saga, is why the nursing staff who were effected by the situation, did not rasie their concerns with their Trade Unions or Members of Parliament."

    They did. Repeatedly. And for years they raised these issues with unions and the NMC. As well as their own managers. The Nurses in my hospital are doing the same. We are ignored and our incident forms are not responed to and "go missing".

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  • Dr Rita Pal also blew the whistle on staffordshire in the years before the scandal broke. She blew the whistle on both poor medical and nursing care. She was labelled mentally ill and lost her license to practice medicine. Google her.

    How dare anyone say that staff wasn't blowing the whistle!!

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  • Sigh...
    The biggest problem is that most healthy people between the ages of 20 and 60 (i.e. working adults) will have had little contact with the NHS over the last few decades. They do not understand what nurses and doctors actually do. That the cost of even basic healthcare is expanding. They pay their taxes and do not want to pay any more. Most patients in the NHS are elderly and/or vulnerable. No one wants to listen to them.
    This enquiry will change nothing. If anything, it will be used as fuel to further dismantle the NHS.
    Until we get the staffing levels and skill mix sorted out, things will just continue to spiral downwards. Its not just the patients who are circling the drain :0(

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of short staffing levels being wholly to blame for this sad state of affairs. Quite frankly, those who ALLOWED / PERMITTED this situation to carry on uninvestigated or challenged are to be held utterly to blame - and the finger here should be pointed at the management (including any senior nurse who did little to help collleagues) for this hospital.
    The mamagement should not be 'allowed to distance themselves' Let them explain this mess to grieving families. Let them explain themselves to the wider community they purport to care for. Let them explain to the media for the general public to hear.
    And while I am here the NMC should be utterly ashamed for taking my money every year but shrinking into the background when we most need them to speak for us. Daylight bloody robbery!

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  • The sad fact of life is that l doubt very much if the NHS will learn from this experience which has caused patients, families and frontline staff so much distress.

    The politicians brought in General Management, they wanted a service which was finance driven and they also dispensed with local watchdog, the Community Health Councils.

    We still have General Management and a service driven by finance, but we are so lucky to have a detached CQC which is detached and operated by the policians.

    The government needs to re-establish the balance and reintroduce a local health watchdog, which is elected locally (not local councillors or others with political agenda's). These watchdogs must includes people who are not afraid to call people to account and who will listen to those healthcare professionals, patients and relatives who raise concerns about their local health service.

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