Am I sickened and shamed by Tuesday’s Health Service Ombudsmans report? Most certainly. How could any normal, decent human being not be. Am I surprised? Not in the least.
This is the most damning condemnation of a sizable section of the nursing workforce I have encountered in a lifetime as a nurse, though I have been fully aware of the gross neglect of countless older patients in NHS hospitals for many years. The ground breaking book Sans Everything by Barbara Robb (1967), the inquiry into the mistreatment of patients at Ely Hospital Cardiff published in 1969 and further reports in the 1970s, would leave anyone concerned in no doubt that nursing faced a massive problem in the second half of the last century. The evidence was staring nurses in the face but little or nothing was learned, no radical changes put in place. If the disturbing history of some nurses callous behaviour over were included in nurses training (as now perhaps it should) we might not have reached the scandalous situation we read about of today.
As late as 1992 The Ashworth Hospital Inquiry reported that such was the neglect, the inhuman treatment and low standard of patient‑care that “the hospital must be a prime candidate for a visit from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment”.
Twenty years ago I highlighted problems of patient neglect but was treated by the majority of colleagues, every manager, most local and national officials/nurse leaders and politicians (up to Downing Street) and who were in a position to intervene, with rejection and contempt.
So to the ombudsman report. I ask which committee will look into the case of Mr D, who had stomach cancer who was left for several hours in pain and who was so dehydrated that “his tongue was like dried leather”, or Mrs R, whose wound dressings were not changed and who was denied food and drink amounting, relatives believed, to euthanasia?
If history teaches us anything, its not to hold our breath.
I am in no doubt that the vast majority of doctors, nurses and other carers are conscientious and dedicated to providing second-to-none quality of care but we also must accept some blame for the minority who so dreadfully let us down.
Unless nurses as a body are prepared to face today’s inexcusable reality and acknowledge their colleagues’ frightful (even criminal) behaviour then the future outlook is bleak.
A seismic shift in recruitment, training, supervision and discipline of nurses with a regulatory body we can trust and respect (perhaps even fear a little) is required to have any hope of restoring the once acclaimed, inexorable standards of patient care which were handed on with pride to me and those with whom I trained 60 years ago.
Nursing, especially of older people, has been for me, an inestimable privilege.
Graham Pink is a retired nurse. In the 1980s he was sacked after he blew the whistle on management failings that led to poor standards of care provided to older people at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport
- See next week’s practice section for analysis on what nurses can learn from the report