Sunday, 5 July 2009

Cruelty, neglect and a catalogue of blunders: stories from today's NHS

Hospital patients are repeatedly being exposed to cruelty, neglect and blunders at the hands of the health service, a report has warned.

By Laura Donnelly and Ian Johnston
Published: 9:00PM BST 04 Jul 2009

Britain's leading patient charity has drawn up a dossier detailing failings in health care which it says are suffered by thousands of people each year, with many left to die in pain or stripped of their basic dignity.

More than 5,000 people contacted the Patients Association's helplines last year because they or a relative had experienced poor medical care.

Medication errors and failures to act on vital information in medical records were also repeated.

The charity said it decided to draw up the report, detailing the experiences of more than a dozen patients, in order to highlight problems which have now become "endemic" across the NHS, as compassion is sacrificed to a targets culture.

Cases include:

– A woman who survived cancer for 40 years, who died from an infected bedsore which the hospital failed to treat;

– a dying leukaemia victim refused pain relief despite his cries;

– a former nurse who was mocked by hospital staff for being a "drama queen" when their rough handling opened painful wounds;

– a cancer sufferer who lost the will to live after being given a drug overdose.

The Sunday Telegraph is highlighting the cases as part of its campaign, Heal Our Hospitals, which is demanding an overhaul of NHS targets to ensure they improve the quality of patient care.

More than 4,950 people have signed a petition backing the campaign. Last week the Government promised to reform the target regime – but has so far only committed to discarding diktats which have already been met.

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said: "Our concern is that the very basics of dignity, care and compassion that should be at the heart of care are being forgotten, in a culture which is focused on targets, and bureaucracy.

"Each of these stories is desperately sad; every week we hear more tales of needless suffering, pain and anxiety and in many cases needless death.

"It is desperately urgent that those running hospitals, and those in Government, listen and learn from these experiences".

Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said some of the incidents described in the dossier were indefensible.

He said: "We will not defend nurses who behave in ways that are contrary to the principles and ethics on which nursing is founded.

"I do believe the vast majority of nurses are decent, highly skilled individuals, and most surveys of patient satisfaction back that up, but we have to face up to the fact that there are some who become inured to what patients are going through".

While individual nurses had to take personal responsibility for cruel comments, and a lack of sensitivity to patients, he warned that "a target-driven culture" had increased pressure on staff to deal with higher numbers of patients more quickly.

The Patient Association's report, Patients Not Numbers, will be published later this month.

To sign The Sunday Telegraph 'Heal our Hospitals' petition, click here.