The NHS is failing. It’s a fact that I’d been warned about but didn’t quite believe until a close family member was admitted to Colchester Hospital in December 2016.
I should be clear before I commence: the NHS appears to have saved my dad’s life, and for that I am truly grateful. The Radiotherapy department and the cancer care he received prior to being admitted to a ward in Colchester Hospital was excellent. Sadly, however, it was an expected admittance to West Bergholt Ward which almost killed him.
A seemingly never-ending list of mistakes started almost as soon as he was admitted to Colchester hospital. Recovering from weeks of radiotherapy, he was unable to swallow and had managed no liquids for over 24 hours. After he was seen, he was promised an IV drip. 2 hours later there was no news…then 3….then 4. After chasing the staff we discovered his notes had already been lost in the chaotic A&E department. Not a good start.
Over a 2 day wait for a bed
Next he would face a 2 day wait for a bed, so in the meantime was left on a gurney in the Emergency Assessment Unit (EAU). Over 48 hours there, with a nurse who was so anxious about every move she made and even struggled to work out how to switch the overhead light on.
An hour later this nurse would break the feeding tube which had been inserted into his stomach via this nose. Lucky for him it wasn’t an airline keeping him alive.
Thankfully, a senior nurse would come on duty later and ensure he had enough morphine to at least get a few hours sleep.
Colchester Hospital is understaffed and badly managed
We were told that the cause of all the delays was a lack of staff, both nurses and doctors. There were many on holiday. Now of course I totally understand that people want to spend Christmas with their families, but how can any decent management team allow the hospital to be understaffed at one of the busiest times of the year?
Lack of doctors
Within a couple of days my dad’s prescription for IV had run out. It would take another 24 hours for a doctor to make it to him to prescribe more. That was another 24 hours with no liquids for someone who was unable to swallow even his own saliva. The reason we were told, once again, was due to a lack of staff. Water is a basic human right, which is seemingly overlooked in Colchester Hospital.
This brings me neatly on to the next point.
Nurses are unable to use their initiative
Not because they can’t, but because they’re not allowed to.
For example, the issue of no IV fluid. You don’t need to be medically trained to know that a basic requirement for the human body is water, so it would seem to make perfect sense to allow a nurse to take the initiative to replace an IV of saline and water to someone who had run out.
Not in the NHS.
In the NHS, you have to have a procedure for every single thing. Of course, you need these procedures to prevent mistakes from occurring because hospitals are being sued for millions every year due to negligence. As a result, nurses have the ability to make even basic decisions removed from them. Perhaps this is a bigger issue of a lack of qualified staff, I’ve no idea, but I do know that this wastes a lot of time and is bound to decrease recovery times for patients. It must be hugely frustrating for nurses and is yet another reason why the NHS is failing to take proper care of patients.
Lack of communication
One of the biggest problems in the hospital wards is a serious lack of communication, which may of the senior staff agreed with when we spoke to them.
For example, on one occasion my dad was due to have a procedure at midday for a tube to be inserted into his nose. This has been agreed by a team of specialists. Half an hour before, we inquired as to why he hadn’t yet had his pre-med. We were then told by a very abrupt Staff Nurse that the procedure wouldn’t be going ahead, because “we don’t do that procedure on the weekend and you’ve been misinformed”. I asked her if she has checked. “Yes, I’ve been down their and there is no one there”. This caused panic for my dad who was already very nervous. After 20 minutes of worry, two porters arrived to take him downstairs for the procedure.
It turns out that not only had the nurse not been told, but she admitted to lying about checking with the department. I never did get to the bottom of why.
One nurse could see that things were bad for my dad. She leaned across the bed and said to my mother to “keep fighting” for him. This was a sad recognition from a member of staff just how bad things were. She was tired, over-worked and frustrated. She could see that Colchester Hospital was falling apart and there was no one to help and support her.
Writing the wrong information in notes
Whilst on the ward, a man in the bed opposite had been taken down for an x-ray and left in the hallway for 2 hours before a porter returned to take him back to the ward. In the meantime, he missed his slot for his Parkinson’s medication. Beginning to shake, he told a nurse that he needed to get back on track for his mediation as his symptoms were returning. She said he would have to wait until the next dose (in one hour) and wrote “medication refused” in his notes.
This same patient was unable to walk and had been complaining for bed sores. He was told that a special mattress would be provided to help move him and prevent them.
Three days later there was still no sign of the mattress. He was in agony and unable to move from the bed as he was catheterised.
One of the reasons were were told for the delay in finding dad a bed on a ward was because there were too many patients waiting to be sent home, an issue known as bed blocking. This is due to a wider issue of there not being enough Social Care outside of hospitals to cope with people returning home and it’s a problem faced by hundreds of hospitals country-wide.
On one occasion, a Staff Nurse attempted to give my dad oramorph (an oral form of morphine). This despite it being noted that my dad was allergic to it, and despite the doctor prescribing intravenous morphine. Had I not been there, she would have given him something which would have made a man unable to swallow violently sick. When I pointed out the mistake the nurse says “I suppose I ought to read his notes”. I kid you not. This actually happened.
A lack of empathy
The problem with some NHS staff is a lack of empathy. Whether this is because they are so busy, or because they’ve hardened in their work, some nurses were plain nasty. One of them snapped at my dad for asking for morphine because it was two hours overdue and he was in a lot of pain.
Another nurse was overheard saying that one of the patients on the ward was “worse than a child”. Whilst she may have thought this, saying it to an elderly man who is bed ridden is rude and unprofessional.
Scared to be in hospital
On a few occasions my dad said he was scared to be in hospital. He said that he had seen so many things going wrong all around him that he genuine feared he might end up being the victim of some sort of negligence.
Complain, complain, complain!
The only way to get anything done in the hospital was by complaining. Initially, we complained to the ward Matron, who was very apologetic and did put a plan or care in place. Sadly, however, it quickly lapsed.
Eventually, after 5 days of my dad having no nutition (they couldn’t get an NG feeding tube in) I had to complain to Tammy Diles in the Head of Patient Experience. With her help (was excellent) we managed to get a meeting with my dad’s consultant and the Head of Cancer nursing. Had she not got involved, I hate to think how much longer he would have gone without proper care and nourishment.
The NHS is failing
13 years ago, my grandfather died at Colchester hospital after a GP failed to noticed a collapsed lung with lead to him contracting pneumonia. At that time, the hospital showed signs of already being under stress.
The recent experience in 2017 of my dad being treated has only shown me how much worse the care at Colchester Hospital has become and how Colchester Hospital is falling apart.
I’m not surprised doctors and nurses don’t want to work here. It’s chaotic and it’s thankless. The nurses are run into the ground. You have decent nurses who really care and really want to do a good job, fighting against a system of inadequate staffing, a percentage of unqualified and bumbling staff, a lack of doctors able to give even basic medication, and increasing number of admissions. The NHS is failing and faces a £30 billion predicted budget shortfall by 2020.
In the same week as all that I have written about was going on, the Red Cross was called in to help Accident & Emergency departments in some hospitals across the UK. Referring to it as a ‘humanitarian crises‘, the Red Cross called on Theresa May’s government to provide more funds for health and social care. The Government quickly rebuffed this and told their NHS bosses to deny their was a problem.
I can assure you that there is a problem. I have seen it first hand for a number of weeks. As a country, we have to accept that the NHS is failing and listen to the people who are telling us there are problems. We can’t keep burying our head in the sand.
On a positive note
I should be fair. The NHS spotted and removed a cancerous tumour from my dad’s neck within a matter of weeks. In that respect the NHS may have saved his life and that absolutely must be noted. The new radiotherapy department at the hospital is excellent and is a shining example of how the NHS could and should be.
Sadly, the contrast between that department at the actual hospital wards couldn’t be any further apart. You go into hospital for help and care, but I would be scared to be admitted today. The NHS is failing. There is a serious lack of investment in the NHS, not just by the Conservative Government by by the Labour Government before it. Austerity isn’t going to help save lives – it’s going to kill them. You simply can’t run a hospital like a business.
It’s sad to think that my dad was saved from cancer in one section of Colchester Hospital, and then could have died from dehydration on a ward just a few metres away. The contrast between these two areas of the hospital couldn’t be any further apart.
There are some people in the hospital who have no one. No one who visits, no one who can keep an eye on their care and no one who can fight their corner. My family and myself have absolutely no doubt that people are dying in the hospital who could have recovered and it’s a very sad situation which I am sure it not just representative of Colchester Hospital.