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'Immune to the sound of pain' - Why the lessons of Mid Staffs must never be forgotten


The NHS is still reeling from the catastrophic care failures uncovered at Stafford Hospital. Beyond the Bedpan has one question - what now?

The frank conclusions of the Robert Francis Inquiry into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Hospitals Trust were felt far and wide this week.

Hospital managers bore the brunt of the criticism. Staff shortages and a lack of leadership led to chaos in the A&E department, with one doctor saying nurses were forced to work extra hours and “were desperately moving from place to place to try to give adequate care to patients”. The results were predictably dire: “If you are in that environment for long enough, you become immune to the sound of pain.”

Others pointed to a slavish commitment to the four-hour target, leading to 96 complaints about inappropriate discharge from patients who were effectively sent home before they were ready or well.

Nurses were not blameless. The attitude of some “left a lot to be desired”, the inquiry heard. Examples of patients being left in sheets soiled with urine or faeces make painful reading for all concerned.

The outrage and recriminations will continue. But the million dollar question (not to be confused with the departing chief exec’s £400,000 pay-off) is simple: how can we make sure this does not happen again?

The latest from a Nursing Times survey suggests that 20% of nurses think the serious care failures at Mid Staffs could happen where they work. Whether fair or not, nurses themselves will shoulder a lot of the responsibility for making sure they do not.

We may not be the problem, but we can be the solution. Nursing is the single most powerful force for improving patient care in the NHS. When things go wrong, will you do something about it?


Readers' comments (36)

  • My mother-in law was recently receiving care at a hospital in the centre of Manchester, and I feel that there are many similarities between there and what I have read of mid staffs. She was admitted last year for oral surgery and the state of the place appalled both myself and my sister-in-law (who had travelled over from New Zealand ). I never once saw a clceaner woorking on visits although as a nurse myself always passed cleaners in corridors whilst on shift. The hospital and this ward in partiucular were filthy, and my sister-in-law actually cried at the thought of leaving my mopther-in-law in this place. She was quite recently re-admitted with c. diff amongst other things and the infection control that we wiitnessed was facical, and also the administration and prescibing of pain relief was disgusting. We are talking about a lady that had been requiring paracetemol, ibuprofen and was currently trialing Tramadol to try and control her pain. This was explained in detail to both an SHO and a consultant on admission. Yet when I returned to visit her in ICU the following week,the only pain relief she was receiving was paracetemol!! and she was in agony. I am a qualified nurse and Health Visitor and could argue for more pain relief, but the fact was that she had been there for a week and must have been in agony for most of that time. I must admit this made me feel ashamed to be a nurse and a member of the NHS. What would have happened if I was just a member of the public who would not know what to say and do to elicit more medication. I am in the process of composing a strong letter of complaint to this hospital which I will present through PALS. I know this is not an isolated incident as I have heard since of one family (where ther were NHS workers as relatives) that actually moved there relative due to these appalling conditions. I feel as a nurse that the cleansiness of some hopitals has become worse since domestic staff were employed under contract and not under the auspices of the ward, we will face more cuts (by the look of it) in future, what is to become of our patients then?

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  • I have been a nurse for 20 years and dont believe this hospital is an isolated case. Nursing has changed over the years and I would argue that this drive by the RCN and NMC to produce a degree led highly academic nursing force is ruining the care of our patients. I think training and CPD is vitally important but nursing is a caring hands on profession and we are sadly moving away from this.Yes now we have nurses who can research,reference and write a brilliant essay to get them all the credits they need so all the paper work we are bombarded with is perfectly done but unfortunately the care is worsening and I think we will be hearing of more trusts in the same position.

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  • RCN / BMA strangely quiet about this catastrophic failure - and it's not a systems failure - why were nurses and other professionals unable to go public with this abuse? When was the last time you sat down with your manager to talk about your job? Mentorship? Do you recognize leadership qualities in your managers? The NHS is anachronistic employer - it doesn't care about it's workforce, why should they care about their jobs?

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  • Nursing has indeed changed through the years. I was trained in UK 40 years ago and I must say training in those days were good. Nursing is a practical job and getting a degree in a Uni has nurses intolerant to patient sufferings and also unwilling to soil their hands. This is not a UK problem but a worldwide problem. We are facing similar situation here in Malaysia.

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  • It wont be long before this happens in the hospital I work in

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  • I feel comments about the state of nurse training are irrellevant here...

    when nurses are given far too many patients to look after, do not have appropriate senior supervision and are working outside of their speciality, (as the report higlighted was the case for most of the nurses in that hospital) care standards will suffer seriously.

    This will happen regardless of whether the nurses were trained in the old manner or not, and those people who choose to blame the individuals are shortsighted, every one of us could find ourselves in this sort of situation if we were in those working conditions.

    I simply cannot understand why the nursing unions (who clearly had been made aware of the conditions by some those involved in the inquiry) did not get involved immediately and publicly when concerns were raised - they have effectively left their members to shoulder the blame.

    We should be using this enquiry as a springboard to highlight the fact that unsafe nurse/patient ratio's are a national problem - otherwise in the current climate of money saving, many more of us might find ourselves in this type of sitation.

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  • I was recently, unexpectedly, admitted to a large local teaching hospital. I was dismayed at the lack of care I received, particularly in the A&E department. I was bleeding and distressed and was astonished that some of the medical staff were alot more caring than the nursing staff who seemed to have little time to provide any comfort or explanation to me. I only ever saw a nurse when I had to call because I was bleeding again (they came and then left me alone) or if my IV ran out or for the drug round. I was in hospital for a week and felt very weak and unable to fully care for my own hygiene and was never offered any assistance.
    It saddens me that this is what has become of nursing care. The care element seems to have gone to a large extent. As a lecturer in nursing, I can only educate, support and encourage my students in aspects of care and showing compassion to patients. The rest is up to them and where they are working. With such a lack of staff, how can things possibly change?..and no, I do not want the government to spend millions setting up another body to look into this. We just need to train and employ more nurses! It's basic common sense! There's been enough money wasted on various management structures that are then dismantled and never fully achieve what they set out to do!

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  • I agree with the comments about staffing levels. During my training (only a year ago) I was told the DH's own recommendations were 1:8 nurse/patient ratio for the lowest dependency patients. This is the best ratio you will ever get in my hospital outside HDU/ITU and my ward frequently has higher dependency patients. When this becomes the norm it doesn't matter how loud you shout, nobody listens.

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  • As you walk on to a ward you hear the bleating bleep-bleep-blong from several IV pumps that have discharged their duty and are waiting for attention. Like the patient beside them. But the bleating is likely to go on all night while nurse-call buttons go unanswered. Imagine being a patient.

    Imagine a nurse answers a call, and goes back to the nursing station. "No 6 wants a bed pan". "Oh, make them wait." Said in a stage whisper so that the patient can hear. Or "Tell them to go in the bed, someone else will change it in the morning". The patient remains like that until they have a visitor 18 hours later.

    Imagine a bed-bound patient who can't move much. Now imagine a nurse wants a bed pan for another patient. Oh, I'll just take the one off his table, I'll replace it. But of course they forget, so he tries the nurse-call, which goes unanswered as usual. The result can easily be imagined.

    Back to the IV pumps, oh it wasn't empty. And the piggy-back antibiotic is till there next morning. What to do? Force it in through the venflon? Never mind that the reason the pump stopped was blockage. Most of the antibiotic goes outside the vein. THe patient also gets a PVT and needs 9 months of warfarin treatment after discharge. Silly. Their operation was a success, but nursing care failed them.

    Yes, staffing level was a problem, and to be fair, a few of the nurses and all the HCA's did their utmost to help patients. But the majority did not. Meanwhile complaints were rewarded by even worse "treatment." Does this sound familiar?

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  • Dear Po Lin Teh and the person who commented above, I think unfortunately you have seen the few nurses that 'don't want to get their hands dirty or be empathetic', the majority of us however went into this job and endured 3 years of (yes still) tough training whilst holding down families, p/t jobs we know first-hand what caring for people truly is.
    I realise these are observances seen sometimes-but even more unfortunately one episode of bad practice outweighs 10 good ones.
    Overall, all of the trainee nurses from my cohort really did and do care alot for their patients- to the point that they would risk a 'bad mark' on their placement to stand up for ill-treatment of patients by certain staff.
    Personally I think the way forward is to annually 'vet' staff, not by the usual pen and paper ticksheet standards but by their character and how well they do their job..I feel appraisals seem to be failing at this and staff are being kept on for the wrong reasons when other, more caring staff could be doing those jobs alot better.

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