A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The NHS And Abuse of the Elderly Patient...A Travesty

NHS Ward (courtesy Alamy)
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse for the older patient...the NHS has issued a warning: if the elderly do not go home within 48 hours after they are dismissed, they will be "evicted" from their beds and possibly forced to pay any legal fees incurred. Never mind that the elderly patient who is reluctant to go home might feel vulnerable or perhaps has no one to care for them or is attempting to find some out of hospital caretaker. The plans were unveiled on the heels of an official report said that the NHS was "inhumane" for betraying the elderly after investigations have uncovered a great deal of abuse in its wards. Older patients who stay in the hospitals are called "bed-blockers" as they are considered well enough to leave but stay because there is no other comfortable or safe place for them to go.

In the last few months, more and more cases of hospital neglect in Great Britain have come to light. And yet, not one doctor or nurse has been fired after the scandalous findings. They have not even been formally called and brought to task. The stories emerging are heart-wrenching at best, and heinous at worst. Patients have been left unwashed, unfed and dehydrated for days. Reports say that some patients were left without bathing for weeks and some for months. Some were left in agonizing pain, dying in their own filthy bed clothes. Others are released when they are grossly underweight and frail.  Reports have come of patients who needed to eliminate and no one would come, so they were forced to simply eliminate in their beds. I wish that I could say that it was all "hype", but it isn't. The stories are true. I should know, I witnessed some of  the abuses myself.

I was in an NHS hospital (that's National Health Service to the uninformed...the state sponsored hospital service) about four years ago. I was suffering from severe stomach cramps. I am someone who believes in alternative medicine. After I was heaving for more than twelve hours, I caved.  Asking to be taken to emergency care means I am at my wits end. I was.

I was admitted into a ward with four other women. They all had stomach ailments. All of them were pensioners (65 plus, though I think they were all in their 70's.)  I was the "youngster". My cramping continued unabated for days. The doctor came in to see me once during the week that I was there.They had no clue as to what I had and no one bothered to attempt to find out. But guess what? They gave me codeine. They had me on a codeine drip. Just taking away the pain. No one cared what I had as long as I didn't complain and was kept drugged. Because I haven't polluted my body with a lot of garbage, I was still able to stay conscious. I finally just said, "No more codeine. That's not helping the underlying cause of this cramping." They were only too happy to oblige. Less money spent on me. Not that a doctor ever came to see me.  I watched as the old women in my ward were left neglected. The woman next to me was suffering from stomach cancer and no one was giving her medication. She was in tears and was calling the nurse and no one came. Hours went by. Finally, a doctor who looked like he was a reject from "Doogie Howser M.D." (i.e. he looked all of 14) showed up. I watched him. He came, holding his cell phone in one hand and speaking to his girlfriend, with his other hand, he took the old woman's pulse and with no word to the patient, left the room still talking to his girlfriend. I was appalled. I was finally so upset with the treatment of the patient, that I said, "Do you want me to call a doctor for you? I cannot bear to see you in  so much pain."  And I started to put my robe and hunt for my slippers to go to the nurses station. She got agitated, "Oh, no..please don't do that. They will make it worse for me if you do that."  I was stunned at her answer. I climbed back into my bed and listened to her excruciating moaning. This was a hospital?  This was the utopia of Michael Moore? This is the "model health institution" that America is desperate to install in its own country? Apathetic doctors, patients being ignored, the elderly treated like chattel?  Oh, wait, the doctor actually did come in one more time, but not to see me or the suffering old lady next to me. He came to see a patient that was across the room from me. When I attempted to get his attention, by calling his name loudly (but politely), he simply spun on his heels and marched out with his entourage of  "Doogie-clones" following him like ducklings on parade.

Five days into my stay at the hospital and still nothing had been done to investigate the cause of my pain. I asked to be left to go home and heal myself. They were more than happy to sign my release.  But you know what I was also told? "You don't look sick enough to be in here."  What a lovely way to diagnose patients!  I'm from Texas. We don't go anywhere without makeup. Not even to a below-par NHS hospital that operated on the wrong person.I still wonder how sick you have to look to get attention in an NHS hospital? I did go home and after a week of pain unattended in a hospital, I took natural remedies and managed to finally stop the cramping. What was wrong with me? I will never know. No one bothered to find out. No one cared, really. They were glad to have a bed to put a quieter more passive patient in my place. 

In 2008, Irene Telford, 93 died in her own faeces. The hospital staff were "too busy" to attend to her. Her family had put her in the hospital thinking that she would receive better care than if she was to be in a retirement home. She was dead within two weeks. Her granddaughter went to visit her and found her sitting in her own waste with her mouth dry and red from dehydration.Their complaints did little to improve her situation.

Other cases of neglect included a Parkinson's patient who had been admitted to the hospital in high spirits and then was turned into a "zombie" after being administered anti-psychotic drugs that were too strong for him. He was "robbed of his dignity" said his relatives. He died two weeks after admission. 

As Jenni Murray, a non-executive director at Christie's Cancer Hospital wrote: "I can't be the only son or daughter to have walked up to the nurses' station to find a little group gossiping about boyfriends, or to be faced with a look that says, 'Yuk! I didn't go to university to wipe someone's bum' when you've asked, politely, for your mother to be helped to the toilet."  Ms Murray witnessed her parents go through the NHS system and became an advocate for elderly patient care, eventually joining Christie's simply because she felt that they were exemplary in treating a patient with care and understanding.  Another elderly woman arrived at a care home after she had been admitted into a hospital in Birmingham. She arrived in another patient's clothing that was soaked in urine and had lost a stone (14 lbs) in the hospital. She was deaf and partially blind and was very agitated after her experience. A family begged that a life-support machine be kept turned on when an elderly man suffered a heart attack simply so his sons could be notified and see him. The doctors switched it off without notifying the family. Doctors failed to notice that an elderly woman had a very severe stomach ulcer and sent her home with paracetamol (similar to aspirin). She died the next day. There are dozens and dozens of cases similar to these that have surfaced. And none of the doctors have been prosecuted, or reprimanded.

Health service Ombudsman, Ann Abraham whose duty it is to investigate NHS complaint cases, reported that the NHS has fallen very short of exhibiting compassion and care to the elderly and that furthermore, doctors and nurses seem to be apathetic to the elderly often giving them negligible care. It was a fairly damning report of the system overall. Ms Abraham stated: "I have yet to see convincing evidence of a widespread shift in attitude towards older people across the NHS that will turn the commitments in the NHS Constitution into tangible reality."  Echoing her concerns was Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK who said: "The inhuman treatment of older people described in this report is sickening and should send shockwaves through the NHS and government."

I am not considered "elderly" (not anytime soon either), but I would rather go sit on a railroad track than ever go to the local NHS hospital which is an appalling institution. I know other NHS hospitals with better records. The one I went to is horrible, and so are a lot of others in this country. I am sure they did not appreciate that "American who complained" all the time. I wasn't complaining, I had my faculties enough to demand basic care. And even that was a pain in the posterior for them. My ward mates were not as feisty or lucky. They were beaten down by the system and/or they were just afraid to complain. What I saw was that complaining only made your situation worse. You were ignored even more. How sadistic is that?


Americans do complain. That's how we end up starting revolutions. And a revolution in the healthcare system here in Great Britain is long overdue. Restore dignity to the elderly. Restore dignity to the fathers and mothers who fought and lost so much in the great wars. They deserve the best this country can give. Not the leftovers. Great Britain is horribly age-ist. Much more so than America. Over 40? You might as well start dying your hair blue and buying a funeral plot. You become invisible.

To the elderly the NHS might as well stand for the National Heinous Service...because that is exactly the kind of service they receive.  It's a national travesty.