A campaigner whose mother died at Stafford Hospital has said the 86 year old once collapsed on a ward after being left without her oxygen supply.
Julie Bailey set up the campaign group Cure the NHS after her mother, Bella Bailey, died at Stafford Hospital, which has been heavily criticised for putting targets and cost-cutting ahead of patient welfare.
Following the death of her mother in 2007, Ms Bailey lobbied for an open investigation into how the appalling standards of care were allowed to persist.
A public inquiry into the care provided by the trust between 2005 and 2009 was launched earlier this month.
Speaking at the inquiry in Stafford this morning, Miss Bailey said patients were left “screaming out” in pain on chaotic and under-staffed wards.
She told inquiry chairman Robert Francis QC that her mother collapsed on ward 11 of the hospital after being left in a chair with no oxygen supply because there were no nurses available to reconnect the canister.
The pensioner, who had a hiatus hernia and suffered from breathing difficulties, had left the ward to undergo an endoscopy and was placed in a chair on her return by a hospital porter, Miss Bailey told the inquiry.
She said her niece, who had been visiting, was told repeatedly that a nurse would reconnect the oxygen supply, but after 45 minutes no nurse had arrived and her mother collapsed.
Miss Bailey said: “The healthcare assistant kept saying, ‘the nurse will be with you in a minute, the nurse will be with you in a minute’ but she never came.
“So mum collapsed and my niece telephoned me.”
She added: “I believe that if my niece hadn’t gone in to see my mum at that particular time when she collapsed then she would have died there that day. I am convinced of it.
“After that I decided that mum would never be in that hospital alone and that is what we did.”
Describing the ward, Miss Bailey said: “It was absolute chaos. There were people screaming out, shouting ‘nurse, nurse’. It was just bedlam.
“There were relatives waiting all the way down the corridor which I later learned was people’s relatives coming in for visitor hours and then waiting to talk to staff. It was cluttered all the way down with people shouting out. It appeared to be utter chaos on the ward.”
Miss Bailey, who slept at her mother’s bedside in the hospital for eight weeks, told the inquiry she saw patients drinking water from vases on the ward during the night.
She said: “I saw that myself on several occasions; it wasn’t just one occasion. They couldn’t find anything else to drink so they were drinking from flower vases. There were just no fluids available for patients.”
She said nurses told her they could not leave drinks out for patients to drink during the night because of “health and safety”.
Miss Bailey, whose mother died on 8 November 2007, told the inquiry she was “absolutely devastated” when she received a letter on behalf of Alan Johnson, the then health secretary, offering his condolences on the loss of her “wife”.
The letter was in reply to a complaint she had written to the Department of Health about her mother’s treatment.
She said: “I felt absolutely devastated at the time.
“You go to the person you think is there to look after you…and I got this response back as if they hadn’t even read the letter.
“It was utter contempt. I didn’t think they had even read my letter.”
The inquiry aims to build on the work of an earlier independent investigation which disclosed a catalogue of failings at the trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital.
Mr Francis has indicated that he expects to go on hearing oral submissions until the middle of next year.
He said the public inquiry had received almost a million pages of documents to consider, adding: “In short, the task I have been set is truly formidable and complex.”
Miss Bailey’s evidence will continue today.