‘We’ll do cancer scan on Monday… if she’s still alive’
Agony of family of dying grandmother who devoted her life to the NHS
As a hospital cleaner, Margaret Cummins dedicated years of her life to the Health Service. She would keep the buildings spick and span – and go out of her way to help the sick and reassure those in distress. But if she expected a little respect in return when she became a cancer patient, she was very wrong.
Instead, the 74-year-old’s family were told that she could not have a vital scan because that particular unit was closed at weekends. The locum doctor said: ‘We’ll do it on Monday – if she’s still here.’
That crass remark was among 36 criticisms levelled at Northampton General Hospital, where Mrs Cummins spent 24 days. The grandmother died in a hospice just two months after being diagnosed with a lung cancer that had been deemed treatable.
And Mrs Cummins’s family claim that her appalling treatment in hospital contributed to her death. Her daughter Julie Fordham said: ‘Mum dedicated much of her life to working for the NHS. She wasn’t high-profile, simply back-room, going about a menial but important job with spirit and a sense of pride. She loved the patients.
‘She always believed the NHS was marvellous, but in this case its standards fell sadly short. We feel she was left to die.’
The family’s claims prompted the chief executive to apologise for 11 failures in her care. Those included her walking frame being moved out of reach so she fell out of bed, being unable to ring a bedside alarm for help because it was out of reach and being left on the floor for 15 minutes.
Her medical notes were also removed from her bed, a Do Not Resuscitate order was posted before it had been discussed with her family, and she was kept waiting for 12 hours for an ambulance dressed only in a nightie and no underwear when she was transferred between hospitals.
Her family also claim she was dropped from a hoist into a bath which caused her lung to collapse. The hospital denies this.
NHS bosses met the family privately this month to apologise, insisting they had put in place procedures to ensure the blunders were never repeated.
Mrs Cummins’s ordeal began in October when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. By November she had deteriorated so much she had to spend her 50th wedding anniversary in hospital. On December 5 her family were called to her bedside.
Mrs Fordham, 43, a mother of two, said: ‘We were told that she was going to die. Her breathing had deteriorated rapidly and we said she needed a lung scan or Xray to find out what was wrong. ‘But a locum doctor took us off into a side room at about 7pm and said she didn’t need a scan because they knew it was the disease, they knew what was wrong. He said, “They don’t do it at weekends as the unit’s closed so we’ll scan her on Monday – if she’s still here.”
‘She had a scan on the Monday which showed her lung had collapsed. His reply was deeply offensive and insensitive. He might not have meant to hurt our feelings but he certainly did. It was crass,’ added Mrs Fordham, from Bletchley, Northamptonshire.
Mrs Cummins, who was married to Chris, 76, had worked at Milton Keynes Hospital and St Stephen’s Hospital in West London. She died on December 29.
Paul Forden, chief executive of Northampton General Hospital Trust, acknowledged 11 direct mistakes relating to Mrs Cummins’ care. Of the remaining complaints, he apologised to the family for their concern over perceived failures.
His most striking admission relates to Mrs Cummins being left on the floor for 15 minutes, unable to reach the call alarm. ‘It was unacceptable that a call bell should be left out of a patient’s reach. It was accepted that best practice was not followed by the nurses with regards to the appropriate access to her call bell and for this I am sincerely sorry.’
The A-level refuseniks: 70,000 British students give up on biggest ever battle for place at university
Seventy thousand students left scrambling for university places after being disappointed in their A-level results have become ‘refuseniks’ and simply given up. Admissions chiefs said ‘very large numbers’ of applicants were planning gap years or other alternatives to escape the most intense rush for degree courses ever seen.
The thousands who have turned their backs on the system include well-qualified students who missed out on prestigious universities but are not prepared to settle for their back-up choices or clearing places which they consider inferior. They believe the courses do not warrant the effort or money. They are expected to re-apply next year, hoping a gap year will improve their prospects, while many others will apply overseas or pursue college places, job-related training or apprenticeships.
The ranks of applicants opting out are expected to swell over the coming week as sought-after places in the clearing system, which matches students to vacant courses, disappear.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service yesterday estimated that more than 150,000 applicants will end up without places this year.
Around a seventh of available clearing places were snapped up within 24 hours of hotlines opening. By yesterday morning, 4,083 of an estimated 30,000 places had been filled. But there are 190,183 candidates eligible to be considered for the remaining places, compared with 140,000 this time last year.
Universities reported that switchboards had jammed and that there had been a ‘substantial increase’ in parents ringing to ‘interfere’ on their children’s behalf. Professor Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said: ‘Lots of mothers have been calling up and pouring their hearts out. They are very demanding and are fighting hard for their children to get places.’
But many youngsters have already chosen to give up. Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: ‘We’ve got about 70,000 who have rejected their offers or who have withdrawn from the system.
She said some had not used their choice of back-up options prudently in their original university application, and so had been unwilling to settle for their second choice or lower. ‘It will be over 150,000 who are, for one reason or another, unplaced or who withdraw from the system, but it will be another week or so before we have got a better idea of what that number will be,’ she added.
Students choosing to defer applications for a year have been warned that competition is also likely to be fierce in 2011, with this year’s huge increase in applicants thought to be partly down to the thousands of students who deferred last year.
Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, said: ‘They are being encouraged by ministers to re-apply next year but can be offered no assurance in return that there will be a resolution to the annual places crisis.’
A-level results: How the great university boom has defrauded Britain’s students
Feeding the product of low quality schools into low quality universities achieves nothing — except to burden the young people concerned with debt
Wakey, wakey, it’s Hangover Friday. After yesterday’s release of A-level results, thousands of young people will roll out of bed today with a tongue like a battered flip-flop and acid drops for eyeballs. The majority will have celebrated achieving the results required for university entrance. Congratulations to them. But for a very significant minority – those who fell short and cannot secure a place through clearing – last night was about drowning sorrows, making this morning’s headache doubly painful. It ought not be like this.
Over the past 20 years, there has been a cultural shift in the United Kingdom, away from vocational training in favour of higher education. It began with the Conservatives’ decision to allow polytechnics and colleges to rebrand themselves as universities, and was compounded by Labour’s target of channelling 50 per cent of school-leavers into degree courses.
Much of the enthusiasm for this recalibration of skills development was well-intentioned, albeit misguided. For the stormtroopers of social engineering, however, fiddling with educational provision and selection has been an opportunity to strike back against ambitious middle-class parents whose “crime” is to invest time and money in their children’s future. Only this week, Nick Clegg denounced school-leavers from affluent homes for taking a “disproportionate” number of degree places, implying that some form of crafty theft is involved.
The truth is rather more prosaic. In a report for the think tank Civitas, Peter Saunders, a sociology professor at Sussex University, concludes: “Children benefit if they are born to supportive parents who care about their education and make sacrifices to help their kids excel. And not everyone has parents like that.”
Yes, good parenting can overcome class barriers, but there is another ingredient that matters even more, one which very few politicians are willing to acknowledge: IQ. According to Professor Saunders: “Half of the explained variance in the occupational destinations achieved by the 1958 birth cohort was due to just one variable – how well they scored on an IQ test when they were aged 11. This is a much better predictor of their eventual fate than class… school… or any other social factor.”
More than 200 years ago, Edmund Burke warned: “Those who attempt to level never equalise.” This is the lesson of Britain’s flawed education policy over the past 40 years, including the razing of grammar [selective] schools, the diminution of A-level standards, and a guerrilla war against independent schools (fought, in part, through that ghastly institution, the Charity Commission).
As even Mr Clegg admits: “There is evidence to suggest that – contrary to expectations – increased levels of attendance at university have not translated into higher levels of social mobility.”
And why might that be? Is it because all the extra capacity has been stolen by degree bandits from comfortable homes? Or is it that a qualification from some of the new universities, into which unknowing (mainly working-class) applicants are herded, is, on its own, no passport to success in a competitive jobs market?
For many ill-advised students from second-rate schools (including a few in the private sector), the conveyor belt into weak universities is a journey into debt, fuelled by the promise of a salary premium that will never be realised. In effect, they are victims of fraud.
According to the National Student Survey, the average debt of a university entrant, starting this year, will be £25,000. But, it is claimed, the average graduate will, over the course of a career, earn £100,000 gross more than former schoolfriends who could have gone to university, but chose to get a job at 18.
This figure is, at best, a guess, constructed with the sticky tape of wishful thinking. Yesterday is no guide to tomorrow, because the number of young people entering university has soared from 6-7 per cent when I went in the mid-1970s, to more than 40 per cent today. As in any market, over-supply results in falling prices.
In 2003, when the last government was softening up the system for the introduction of higher top-up fees, it cited research indicating that graduates would, over a lifetime, earn some £400,000 more than non-graduates. But a 2007 survey by Universities UK downgraded it to £160,000, and since then, according to a committee led by Lord Browne, the income boost for degree holders has been eroded to just £100,000.
Even if this is correct, an average is just that. So for every first-class physicist from Imperial College who ends up earning £200,000 as an analyst in the City, there must be an origami graduate from the University of Coketown who is suffering hard times.
Too many would-be students and their parents fail to appreciate the vast discrepancy in quality between universities, and what this means for job prospects and pay. They live the dream, only to discover after graduation that many leading employers recruit primarily from Russell Group and 1994 Group institutions, which between them account for just 39 of the UK’s 130 universities.
Most companies are not interested in being vehicles for social mobility; they simply want to hire the brightest people. In a heartbeat, they work out where to look. At the top end of the university tables, Cambridge is demanding A*AA passes at A-level for entry on just about all its courses. At the bottom end, some universities are accepting students with CC or even less.
Nine universities – Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Imperial, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, University College London and St Andrews – have an intake that comprises more than 30 per cent from private schools. This has nothing to do with snobbery or elitism; it’s about maintaining standards. A vice-chancellor from one of them told me that his institution was “straining” to admit more state-school candidates, but too few were able to meet the minimum requirements.
As Lord Adonis, Labour’s minister for schools 2005-08, wrote recently, instead of dreaming up schemes for a graduate tax (which will be uncollectable from foreign students and Britons who become expatriates), the Government should focus on “eradicating the long tail of seriously under-performing comprehensives”. The aim should be to improve state schools, because throttling private providers serves no purpose other than to cheer up Lord Prescott and his miserable crowd.
Nobody wants to stamp on the hopes of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of course they should be encouraged to go to university, but only if they know the true costs and likely benefits. Moreover, there is no reason for those who didn’t make the grades this week to despair.
You don’t need to be an entrepreneurial hot-shot – a Richard Branson or a Philip Green – to make it to the top without a degree. Some of the most prestigious jobs in conventional British industry are filled by those who avoided university, among them the chairmen of BAA (Sir Nigel Rudd), Vodafone (Sir John Bond), Marks & Spencer (Sir Stuart Rose), British Airways (Martin Broughton); the senior partner at Deloitte (John Connolly) and the chief executive of HSBC (Mike Geoghegan). All is not lost.
Nazism is not dead among British Leftists
Hitlerian forced eugenics not dead in England! The council involved is not named but Midlands councils are commonly Labour Party controlled
A judge has criticised a council for trying to have contraception forced upon a woman with a low IQ, warning that the move had “shades of social engineering”. Mr Justice Bodey said it would not be “acceptable” for police to take the married woman from her home before doctors sedated her and imposed birth control on her, against her will. He said the local authority’s plan, to stop the 29 year-old having more children, “would raise profound questions about state intervention in private and family life”.
However the judge agreed that she lacked the mental capacity to make important decisions about her medical treatment, paving the way for the council to make a further request for force to be used.
It is the latest in a series of rulings published by the Court of Protection, which until recently always kept its judgements secret, that highlight the power that town halls and judges have over people with learning difficulties or dementia.
Earlier this year a High Court judge sitting in the Court ruled that a woman suffering from cancer, who has a phobia of hospitals and needles, should be forced against her wishes to undergo life-saving treatment.
The Court, which was given the power to decide on personal welfare cases under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, can also order the withdrawal of life-support from patients as well as making them have abortions or undergo “innovative treatment”.
In the latest case, a council in the Midlands initially wanted to force contraception on a married woman who has an IQ of 53. None of those involved can be named. She has already had two babies, both of whom were taken away from her at birth by social services and put up for adoption over fears she would not be able to look after them.
The woman, known in the judgement as Mrs A, is now married to a man with an IQ of 65, and attends college as well as taking part in voluntary work.
A year ago social workers feared that she was suffering violence at the hands of her husband, and also that he had forced her to stop taking contraception because he wanted a baby, so the council began Court of Protection proceedings to “protect her interests”.
Solicitors, doctors and psychiatrists interviewed Mrs A in order to find out whether she understood the choices she had regarding birth control, and their implications.
The council argued that she was unable to understand the consequences of not using contraception such as the Pill or a coil, or to envisage what is involved in raising a child. But the Official Solicitor, representing the woman, argued that such a wide approach would mean many first-time mothers would appear to lack capacity.
The judge agreed that deciding whether a woman “understood enough about the practical realities of parenthood” would veer into a “paternalistic approach”.
On the narrower medical issue, he agreed that Mrs A lacked the capacity to decide whether to have contraceptive treatment. The judge said her decision to stop taking birth control was “not the product of her own free will” because of the “coercive pressure” placed upon her by her husband.
However he said that the council’s application was no longer for “force and restraint” to be used “so that contraception could be urgently administered”.
The judge said Mrs A’s social worker admitted “there would need to be police involvement” and it would be a “horrendous prospect” for her to be “physically removed from the family home and taken to have contraception under restraint and anaesthesia”.
He declined to make an order as to her best interests, leaving it for the council to assess the couple’s parenting abilities if she did become pregnant and then take “appropriate” steps. The council said it “reserves the right” to argue that force should be authorised in the future.
But the judge said: “It is obvious on the facts of this case, that any step towards long-term court imposed contraception by way of physical coercion, with its affinity to enforced sterilisation and shades of social engineering, would raise profound questions about state intervention in private and family life. Whilst the issue of the use of force has not been argued out at this hearing I cannot, on these facts, presently see how it could be acceptable.”
David Hewitt, a specialist in mental health law at Weightmans, said: “It seems from the judgment that, at least at the outset, the council thought it might need to have the police enforce an order that the woman take her contraceptive medication. That seems quite striking, yet because of the route the judge chose to take, it’s still in prospect.”