Anger of families at ‘appalling’ hospital failings

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The families of 38 people who suffered “appalling” failings in care from an NHS hospital trust say it must never happen again.

Legal action has been taken against Worcestershire Acute Hospital Trust after claims that patients were left starving, dehydrated and left to wallow in their own excrement.

In one of the worst cases, an 84-year-old man starved to death at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, in June 2009.

Some patients were left thirsty with drinks left out of reach while others were left to sit in their own excrement.

Other instances include an elderly woman who went unwashed for 11 weeks and later died, and a man who was unable to feed himself, and whose nurses would simply take his uneaten food away, according to his daughter.

There were further claims from the families of a man whose ribs were broken while hospital staff attempted to lift him, and a great-grandmother whose hip fracture went undetected by doctors.

A class action legal case was brought against Worcestershire Acute Hospital Trust, which has now issued written apologies to each of the families involved.

The trust has also agreed to pay compensation totalling £410,000, after accepting the standard of care it provided to elderly patients fell well short of the minimum.

Among those receiving an apology are the family of 73-year-old Colin White, who was admitted to the Alexandra in July 2009.

His daughter Kim, from Gloucester, described how there was “no respect or dignity” for her father during his stay at the hospital. She says her father was not fed properly, doctors and nurses were uncommunicative, and on one occasion he was left lying in soiled bedding.

“All we ever wanted was an apology, and the acknowledgement that my father was treated appallingly,” said Miss White.

“We also didn’t want anyone else to go through the hell that my father went through.”

Former nurse Patricia Brindle, aged 86, was left unwashed for 11 weeks after being admitted in February 2008, despite her son Peter begging nurses for her to be bathed, he said.

Mr Brindle, of Redditch, said: “Nobody was doing their job, nobody could be bothered to take a bed pan in for my mother – this woman who had worked all her life, been a nurse, and never transgressed the law.

“She only had the misfortune to have a stroke and be left at the mercy of people who did just not give a damn.”

Mrs Brindle was transferred to another hospital but died a few days later.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “disgusted and appalled” to read the families’ accounts saying the Department for Health would be “keeping a careful eye” on the situation.

He said: “I know most NHS staff including many at the Alexandra Hospital will be shocked to hear these stories.

“I want to support them in making sure that these awful experiences are not repeated.

“In future, we will be implementing a systematic way of measuring patients’ experiences, both good and bad, so that the public can see how individual hospitals are doing at providing the highest possible standards of care.”

A legal bid was launched against the trust after failings in basic day-to-day care were highlighted in a report by health watchdog the Care and Quality Commission (CQC) in March 2011.

Emma Jones, a human rights lawyer with Leigh Day & Co which brought the legal action, said: “The failings we uncovered were appalling. Vulnerable and elderly patients were left starving and thirsty, with drinks left out of reach, buzzers ignored and people not being taken to the toilet and instead left to sit in their own faeces by the very people meant to be caring for them.

“There have been financial settlements, but what the families have always wanted all along is an apology, some have been waiting years.”

Ms Jones said the trust had acted to “draw a line” under the matter.

In a statement, the trust accepted “care fell below the requisite standard” but added “significant” improvements had since been made to levels of patient care.

The incidents all took place between 2002 and 2011, with the vast majority of cases against the Alexandra Hospital.