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'Huge concerns' remain over Mid Staffs care

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A campaigner whose mother died at an NHS hospital criticised over disastrous standards of care today told an inquiry she still has “huge concerns” about the treatment of vulnerable patients.

Julie Bailey set up the campaign group Cure The NHS after her 86-year-old mother, Bella Bailey, died at Stafford Hospital, which has been accused of putting targets and cost-cutting ahead of patient welfare.

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Giving evidence at a public inquiry in Stafford into care provided by the trust between 2005 and 2008, Miss Bailey said although conditions appear to have improved, her campaign group continued to receive “very worrying complaints” about the hospital.

She said: “I believe things have improved a lot at the hospital.

“We’re getting far less complaints, but we are still getting very worrying complaints coming through to us.

“We have still got huge concerns about what is going on at the hospital regarding vulnerable and elderly patients.”

Miss Bailey told the inquiry that NHS complaints handling had improved “very much” in recent years, but added: “Until the NHS welcomes complaints, only then can we improve things in the NHS.”

Following the death of her mother in November 2007, Miss Bailey lobbied for an open investigation into how appalling standards of care were allowed to persist at the hospital.

The inquiry, chaired by Robert Francis QC, was launched earlier this month.

Yesterday she described the scenes she witnessed at the hospital where she slept overnight for eight weeks, telling Mr Francis that patients were left “screaming out” in pain on chaotic and under-staffed wards.

She revealed 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 and told the inquiry she saw patients drinking water from vases on “several occasions”.

Miss Bailey, whose mother died from heart failure on 8 November 2007, said she was “unhappy” with the response from the Department of Health when she tried to raise her concerns with them on a number of occasions.

She said: “I’ve been unhappy with every member of the Department of Health that I have tried to engage with.”

She told the inquiry that after a meeting with Ben Bradshaw, the then junior health minister, last year, she was left with the view that he had no “grasp” of the problems at the hospital.

She said: “Basically, what he was telling me to do was to go back to the complaints procedure at the hospital, which seemed particularly bizarre.

“He really didn’t have a grasp of what was going on at the hospital, never mind the NHS.”

Miss Bailey said yesterday she had been “absolutely devastated” to receive 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.”

Janet Robinson, whose son John Moore-Robinson died in April 2006, after being treated at the accident and emergency department at Stafford Hospital, told the inquiry she had “had to fight” for information about her son’s treatment.

The 20-year-old suffered a ruptured spleen following a fall from his mountain bike in Cannock Chase.

He was taken to Stafford Hospital from the scene of the accident but staff failed to notice that he was bleeding internally and he was diagnosed with bruised ribs and sent home with painkillers.

He later called 999 and was taken by paramedics from his home to Leicester Royal Infirmary, where he was pronounced dead.

Mrs Robinson, from Coalville, Leicester, broke down as she told the inquiry that Martin Yeates, former chief executive of Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust, had written to her in 2008 to apologise for her son’s treatment at Stafford Hospital.

In the letter, Mr Yeates suggested that the Robinson family would be able to “put this matter behind you” and “move on”, the inquiry heard.

Quoting the letter, Mrs Robinson said: “‘To enable you to put this matter behind you and move on’… I don’t know how on earth he thinks we can possibly do that.

“I can never ever put John’s death behind me, it will always be with me.”

Mrs Robinson said her son’s friends who went with him to Stafford Hospital were “disgusted” by the treatment he received.

She said one friend told her that Mr Moore-Robinson would have been discharged without painkillers if he had not demanded them on his behalf.

“He was very critical [of the hospital], very very critical”, Mrs Robinson said of the friend.

She added: “He was disgusted that they [the nurses] had said that he was going to be discharged and they hadn’t given him any painkillers or anything, so he went and asked for the painkillers because he felt that he needed at least something.”

The inquiry heard that when Mr Moore-Robinson was discharged from Stafford Hospital, he was sweating profusely, vomiting, and in too much pain to walk.

The inquiry, which will continue to hear oral submissions until the middle of next year, aims to build upon the work of an earlier independent investigation that disclosed a catalogue of failings at the trust, which also runs Cannock Chase Hospital.

Launched after a Healthcare Commission report published last year, the first inquiry found that appalling standards put patients at risk and between 400 and 1,200 more people died than would have been expected in a three-year period from 2005 to 2008.

Mr Francis 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.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • This article does not suprise me and I am sure there remain a number of hospitals around the UK with the same falling standards. My mother died at Royal Berkshire hospital in 2007 and being a nurse myself I was appalled at the lack of care and training the staff had. Patients were often left to feed themselves - yet were too sick or disabled to do so and we always had to ask the nurses to help sit up/turn my mother. her pain relief was completely inadequate and the palliative care staff unable to be contacted when required. My mother was in pain all night the night before she died because the night staff could not get an increase in pain relief approved by the resident Doctor. During her first admission to the hospital she never had a shower or hair wash in 6 weeks. I trained as a SRN in 1976 and I can see the deterioration in health care in the past 30 years. It was so stressful having my mother in hospital as we felt we did not trust the staff to care for her properly and so we took it in turns to stay with her to ensure she was fed and given a drink and turned etc. The other distressing factor was the fact that I did not meet a single nurse who seemed to have any compassion and for me that was the most upsetting part of my mothers stay in hospital.

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  • Melissa,

    I find your account above distressing and disturbing.

    Nursing standards in the "field" starting to fall in the 80's. I qualified in 72 and I have also seen deteriorating standards of care and attitudes.

    It would appear that since the abolition of apprenticeship style training following the move to college base education, nurses just do not acquire the necessary skills. There is no correlation between theory and practice. Mentorship is useless as they have all been produced from the same mould. Consolidation just does not appear to exist.

    I understand that they now have to have all sorts of check lists to complete to ensure an understanding of the patients condtion. ie they can no longer look at recorded observations or the clinical picture of the patient to identify deterioration in condtions and implement interventions for improvement.

    To obtain their diplomas/degrees they need to be able to quote, critique and discuss nursing research to obtain their professional qualifications. They are then let loose on vulnerable members of the public.

    Then what happens...they moan and groan and bleat about, poor pay, disrespect from the public and disrespect from medical staff.

    Clearly, they have no insight into their shortcomings.

    I really despair. Mid staffs was horrendous but I suspect just the tip of the iceburg.
    Nurses need to realise that they are responsible for their actions and indeed non actions. I fear we are going to be seeing a lot of nurses losing their registration before the powers that be see the errors stacking up. Nurses need to put on a professional HAT and play patient advocate and stand up and be counted.
    The Rcn and similar bodies also need to be more supportive when nurses ask for help and guidance.

    I still nurse, do it well and am proud of my knowledge, experience and performance.
    But as the years tick by I do worry about old age and the type of care I will recieve if I succumb to illness and hospital admission...

    I rest my case.

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