Over the past couple of week Members of Parliament have revealed shocking details of neglect of their family members by NHS staff, despite their protests and complaints. If powerful politicians can’t challenge the NHS culture of contempt and cruelty towards vulnerable patients what chance have the rest of us got to protect our loved ones?
Here are personal accounts from Fiona Bruce MP and Anne Clywd MP:
Fiona Bruce MP
Every year, 130,000 people die on the pathway, under which doctors remove life-saving treatment. In December it emerged that almost half are never told that treatment is being removed.
Mrs Bruce, vice chairman of the parliamentary Dying Well group, said that in her mother’s case ‘it took her weeks to pass away, which was agonising for her, and heart-rending for her family. There was no discussion, no consultation with the daughter.’
Last summer, her father was taken to hospital feeling unwell, she told MPs. Doctors could not diagnose any illness, although he was very frail. After a few days, Mrs Bruce asked a nurse how he was doing.
The MP for Congleton recalled: ‘“Oh,” said the nurse, almost casually, “he’s not very well at all. He has not long to live; we’re putting him on the Liverpool Care Pathway.” No discussion, no explanation, no consultation; just an announcement. Surely there should be more formality about this, more dignity.’
A day later, he was moved to a nursing home. ‘There, his needs were attended to in a positive and caring way,’ Mrs Bruce said. ‘There he didn’t die. In fact, he got better. Now, well over six months later, that elderly man is very much alive, still being cared for: eating well, enjoying visits from his family. It’s not a fantastic quality of life – but it is a life.’
Anne Clwyd MP
‘Tonight, in common with every other night, Ann Clwyd will be jolted from her sleep by a familiar nightmare. “I wake in a cold sweat, always with the same image,” she says. In the scene that she cannot banish from her memory, her husband Owen is shivering in a hospital bed with his life ebbing away.
Her story of how he died “like a battery hen”, crushed against the bars of his NHS bed with an ill-fitting oxygen mask cutting into his face, this week provoked horror at the “almost callous lack of care” in the hours before Owen Roberts, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, lost his life to hospital-induced pneumonia.
on October 23, Ms Clwyd sat helpless at her husband’s bedside. She and a friend had covered her husband with a towel to try to keep him warm, and put socks on his feet because they were hanging from the end of the bed.
“I used a dampened tissue to wipe his eye, which was infected. His lips were dry from a fan that had been left on a nearby bedside, but no one came to give him a drink. He was so cold under a thin cotton cover. A friend had asked if he could be moved from the ward into an empty room, but was told that it was being kept empty. I really do feel he died of cold, he died from people who didn’t care. He died because people decided he was going to die.”
Earlier, when she had asked why her husband was not in intensive care, she was told, she says, that other people were worse off than he was. Any contact with staff was “cold and callous”, or simply non-existent. “I should have stood in that corridor and screamed. Where were the nurses?”
Only when her friend ran to get help did the staff arrive. “They tore the oxygen mask off him and started pulling drips out of his arms. They gave him an injection, but it was all too late. I’ve never seen anyone die before.”
When he was diagnosed in the Seventies with multiple sclerosis, Mr Roberts retained the toughness and independence she had admired when they first met, as two young broadcast journalists….
On the first two occasions, he was sent home quickly from A&E. Before the third episode, he appeared to have a premonition of his death. “I am going to go before you,” he told his wife. When he was admitted to hospital again this autumn, Ms Clwyd expected that he would be home soon. “He gave me a thumbs-up from the ambulance,” she says. Instead, he was left overnight in A&E.
“He was distressed and agitated. When I spoke to a doctor, it was almost as if my husband didn’t exist. It took two-and-half hours’ waiting before I saw an administrator. No one even offered me a seat. Eventually, I was told he’d be put on a ward that night.”
Mr Roberts was finally admitted to a respiratory ward after being diagnosed with sleep apnoea, a condition that causes interrupted breathing, for which doctors wanted to conduct some tests. Shortly afterwards, Ms Clwyd herself developed a chest infection and was told by the hospital that she should stay clear of the ward.
“Friends went in instead. Every day, my husband asked: ‘Where’s Ann?’ He asked someone to get him a taxi home. I phoned the ward, but you feel a nuisance, and when I asked to speak to him, they said they didn’t have that facility. On the Monday before he died, I got a call to say the consultant was very worried and thought he had pneumonia.”
By the time she arrived to keep vigil by his bedside, Mr Roberts was hours away from death. “I only saw one nurse-round. Nobody came to speak to me afterwards. When I asked why he wasn’t in intensive care, I was brushed aside. As he was dying, someone put the lights on and called: ‘Anyone for breakfast?’ ”
Protect the Pope comment: First they killed the unborn child , but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t an unborn child. Then they experimented on embryonic human beings, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t an embryo. Then they killed the disabled babies and babies with Downs, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t disabled or have Downs. Then they killed those in a Permanent Vegetative State, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t in a Permanent Vegetative State. Then they killed the vulnerable and old, but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t vulnerable or old. Then they came for me, and there was no one prepared to speak for me. ( After Martin Niemöller).