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'She was terrified of the very people who should have been there to care for her'

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5 February, 2013

Isabella Bailey was admitted to mid Stafford hospital with a hiatus hernia. During her hospital stay her family became so concerned about standards of care on ward 11 they decided to keep watch over her 24 hours a day.

Isabella’s daughter, Julie Bailey has written about her mother’s stay in hospital and what happened to other patients on ward 11. Her book “From Ward to Whitehall” is a horrific personal account of neglect and abuse.  

Reading it I found myself underlining, turning over page corners and sadly recognising some of things nurses do when they stop seeing the person in the bed.

These quotes give some insight into the scale of the problem:

On ward culture

“Each day there is unkindness because there are so many uncaring staff on this ward, the negativity feeding off itself and multiplying.”

On caring for confused patients

“Nurse Ratchet has moved Mavis, she has had a mattress placed in the corridor opposite the nurses’ station. Every time she gets out of bed she shouts at her, ‘Get back into bed!’ you can hear her hollering all the way down the corridor.”

Feeling safe

“Every time a nurse came near her, she was terrified, terrified of the very people who should have been there to care for her.. .when the staff came near her she would dig her nails into my hand in fear.”

On raising concerns

“If you contact management you’ll just get us into trouble and that won’t help anybody,” she [nurse] tells me.

Hydration

“The woman in the isolation room wasn’t the only patient I saw drinking out of the flower vases that were piled up along the main corridor.”

On nutrition

“Sitting watching them [patients] claw at their food was heartbreaking… The ward was so starved of staff it was impossible to manage a ward and care for all those patients.”

On personal care

“Without further ado the bowl is emptied and Mavis hasn’t had a wash since at least Thursday, despite being covered in faeces. I’m surprised as they must have smelt her, as we have all weekend.”

On communication

“You rarely get eye contact with any of the staff, they could just walk straight past you, without any form of acknowledgement. You can stand at the nurses’ station for minutes without any of the staff even raising their eyes.”

On good nurses

“20% of the staff are lovely, absolute gems in this uncaring environment. Their presence can light up a room… I realise that their presence calms the ward, even the confused patients are less agitated when they are on duty, they respond to their kindness. The problem is because there are three different shifts a day and very few caring staff, a kind word is rare.”

So tomorrow the Francis report is published.  This inquiry happened because patients suffered and died due to lack of care in a health system that no longer saw care as its primary function. As a profession we have to gather the strength and confidence to ensure this never happens again – and ensure that patients and their families can feel confident when they are admitted into our care.

Readers' comments (8)

  • There is no excuse for this. None.

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  • tinkerbell

    with great power comes great responsibility.

    Those who put targets and tick boxes and statistics before people lives need to know this must never happen again. They may not have wanted to be responsible for what has happened but i hope they will be accountable.

    I hope we are all not going to be let down by the outcome and am hoping that any recommenations made by Robert Francis will make a huge positive difference to bring us back to good practice and good standards across all the country.

    You should not come out of hospital worse than when you went in or not at all because you were neglected and didn't even receive basic care.

    This is serious and needs a serious response so that it doesn't happen anymore.

    I hope any recommendations are acted upon and we no longer have to listen to rhetoric without action.

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  • Hopefully in future all bad care will be reported to the appropriate body by staff and/or visitors and go beyond the senior officers up to the level of CEO of the local hospital or service if necessary and beyond that and even up to the very highest level if not immediately heeded and rectified. It is the duty of everybody employed in the NHS to ensure adequate care and service is provided.

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  • This must never happen again, it is criminal. I am a nurse of 39 years and I was in tears when reading this article..how dare health professionals treat patients like this. Would they like to go hungry, dirty and covered in their own faeces???

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  • michael stone

    Radio 4 was doing a 'pre-Francis' bit this morning.

    There was a lot of truly dreadful stuff - including some of the above - but the point was also made, that sometimes the 'nurses' the media complain about, were HCAs: and it seems that sometimes HCAs have had hardly any training.

    I think the public needs to be made aware, of the difference between nurses and HCAs, and when on wards it should be obvious 'at a glance' who is a nurse, and who is an HCA - I'm not sure if this already happens, but very different coloured uniforms (if nurses have blue, then HCAs could have yellow for example) would be a start ? Perhaps a single-word term for HCA (suggestions ?) would help - you might call across a room 'nurse', or indeed 'doctor', but who is going to call across a room 'health care assistant' ?

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  • While the majority of nurses both qualified and HCA deliver excellent care under very trying circumstances at times I agree that there are a significant number of both registered nurses and HCAs who do not possess the caring or compassionate nature to give care to patients and therefore should not to be part of the caring profession.
    Registered nurses are professionally regulated and so can be held to account for their actions, as for HCAs I have worked with some brilliant HCAs and some who I would not trust with the care of an animal, so I agree they also need to be regulated and subject to closer scrutiny and if found to be seriously wanting they need to be booted out and like their senior counterparts if criminally negligent subject to criminal prosecution.
    That said the majority of nurses do not enter the profession for the money/status they are drawn toward a vocational career which promises only hard work with little pleasure and lets face it the financial rewards are being eroded day by day e.g pay freezes, rising registration costs, rising pension contributions etc.
    Most nurses go through training and begin their careers with all the good intentions however many become so bogged down with rules/regulations and paperwork which come at the expense of patient care, compassion and good common sense.
    So its no wonder then that situations like Stafford arise and this hospital is not alone by far but it has been made the scapegoat for countrywide failings throughout NHS which I have no doubt with the Francis report many trusts will now be shaking in their boots in case they are next on the name/shame list.
    When will the government sit up and take notice of what is happening to the people who are the backbone of the NHS - the nurses and support workers, well they need to know the backbone is at near breaking point and many nurses are tired/burnt out by having to work additional shifts just to make a decent wage especially in light of on going pay freezes and rising costs in household budgets.
    Many staff work hundreds of 'goodwill' extra hours per year unpaid mostly beginning shifts early/finishing late/missing or taking shorter breaks just to cover for low staff levels all in the name of delivering care. Personally I work average of 3-4hrs extra hours per week - unpaid, without this 'goodwill' how would wards/clinics manage I wonder?
    In the present climate of care being limited by financial constraints dictated by government targets
    I think a good number of nurses (including myself)given the choice would throw in the towel and quit nursing rather than be labelled an uncaring nurse but because they have financial obligations they cannot avoid they just soldier on and risk losing a little of their humanity day after day until one day they forget the reasons they came into nursing for and this is so sad.

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  • When my mother was in a North London Hospital I realised after a number of mishaps that the only way she was going to be properly cared for was if I was there 24/7. No mean feat so while I was at work I paid for somebody to sit by her bed so if she wanted water it could be given, if she wanted to go to the toilet she wouldnt have soil the bed, and when food arrived it could be given to her before it was stone cold. At one point my mother had a fall when neither the carer or I was there. I was appalled and complained. When I said I was going to stay all night by her bedside the hospital assured me they would have somebody sit with her during the night. When I arrived in the morning the nurse said "your mother has had a fnatastic night - she hasn't stirred all night" of course not she was in a coma!!! She died 3 weeks later

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  • I left NHS and work in the private sector because was always shortage of staff owing to staff sickness. This happened often when the ward is busy and staff would ring in the night before to say that they are sick and unable to come in to work the next day. In the private sector, all patients are referred as clients and they have every right to complain if they are not happy with their care. Although I have to work longer hours, less annual leaves and no NHS pension I am happy and enjoy my work and delivering care to my patients as there is a high morale and staff do not often goes off sick.
    Maybe this is what is lacking in the NHS as it is free every body took it for granted.

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