How to get treated like dirt and be left without medical care: Question an NHS doctor
In socialized medicine you are a supplicant, not a customer
Yesterday, the Health Service Ombudsman revealed that hundreds of patients are being struck off by their GPs – many after making minor complaints.
Here, three wronged patients – including the parents of a boy, whose GP offered no comfort when he died – describe their harrowing experiences at the hands of their own family doctors:
Kevin Capel, 53, is an IT designer and lives with his wife Karen, 50, in Lightwater, Surrey. He says:
On June 5, 2008, our five-year-old son, Christopher (pictured right), died of a brain tumour after a brave 21-month battle with the disease. Christopher never complained, even when he was in the midst of the most brutal treatment. And when our lovely boy finally gave up his fight for life, we were utterly heartbroken and consumed with grief — feelings made worse by the uncaring attitude of our GP practice.
Things had changed dramatically in the eight years we had been registered there. Gone was the compassion that had once made it a place we could rely on. After one of the partners retired in February 2008, we received not one call from our GP to discuss Christopher’s treatment or our needs as his carers.
No support, no practical help and certainly no sympathy.
Shortly before Christopher died, our family doctor, a practice partner, came to our house to treat me for a severe throat infection. During the visit he didn’t ask about Christopher, mention his illness or talk about our needs. He wrote me a prescription and left.
By now, Karen and I were almost on our knees with exhaustion and grief. As anyone who has lost a child knows, support from your healthcare professionals is vital.
After Christopher’s death, this lack of care became something we felt we had to address — not least because we believed others at the practice may be experiencing similarly treatment.
PALS, the patient liaison body, pointed us in the direction of our local primary care trust, which has responsibility for the supervision of GP practices, and a meeting between us and the practice was called.
We were hopeful our resentments would be aired and matters resolved. We had been patients there for a long time and didn’t want to leave.
The meeting began badly. Our doctor talked over us and, at one point, he told Karen to ‘shut up’. The conciliator, appointed to chair the meeting, later thanked us for not walking out.
The meeting was abruptly terminated by our GP, who said we were to be taken off his practice lists — just weeks after our son’s death, when we were grieving and in desperate need of help.
We left in shock. How could a doctor treat his patients with so little compassion? How could we be de-listed from our surgery for making a complaint, when we were in mourning? We were totally isolated and had trouble sleeping, feeling helpless in the face of this injustice. But, at that time, we still naively believed the authorities would be on our side.
But Surrey PCT refused to get involved, saying the practice had acted within the guidelines.
The surgery, meanwhile, told untruths about the help it offered to us when Christopher was alive. It said that, on account of an irretrievable breakdown in patient-doctor relations, ‘our best interests’ would be served by going elsewhere.
We wrote to our MP and then to the PCT. But we were stonewalled at every turn – until April last year, when we took our complaint to the Health Service Ombudsman. An investigation ensued, witnesses were called and our complaints against the practice and the PCT were upheld.
Both were found guilty of maladministration and, crucially, the practice was deemed to have contravened the Royal College of General Practitioners’ guidelines, which state that making a complaint against your GP is not sufficient reason to be struck off.
It was ordered to pay us £1,000 in compensation. We gave it to the children’s cancer charity, Christopher’s Smile, which we set up in our son’s name.
But the truth is, at the end of all this heartache, we are the ones left with the stigma of being de-listed. We have to drive to see our new GP rather than walk to the one that’s closest.
Meanwhile, the GP who acted inappropriately is still practising and, for all we know, treating any patients who question him with disdain.’
Naseem Hussein is a 61-year-old retired nurse from East Kilbride, Scotland. She says:
Being struck off by my GP was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I worked as a staff nurse for 36 years, understood the system and, until this happened, had enjoyed a good relationship with my doctor.
As I suffer from high blood pressure, I had to visit him regularly and had never encountered any problems before.
But, on this occasion, I rang the surgery in Guildford, Surrey, to ask for an urgent appointment, as I was suffering from a kidney infection and knew I needed a course of antibiotics to clear it up.
The receptionist could not give me an appointment for five days. I was in discomfort and asked if I could see the doctor sooner. She said not. When my appointment finally came, the receptionists at the surgery were rather rude to me.
They were whispering and seemed to be deliberately keeping me waiting. I didn’t say anything, but felt embarrassed.
A few days after this, I received a letter from the GP, telling me I had been rude to his staff and was, as a result, being removed from his list.
I could hardly believe it. But my disbelief soon gave way to anger. I wrote to the practice manager, insisting I was not the one who had been rude.
I said I didn’t want to leave the care of a doctor I had always been happy with. But the reply was swift — the matter was closed. I would have to find another GP.
How could he have decided this without hearing my side of the story? I contacted the Family Doctor Association to try to find myself another GP. But, having had to tell them I’d been asked to leave my previous doctor, several local surgeries rejected me on the spot.
One by one, letters of rejection arrived saying they didn’t have room for me. But I knew the real reason was they didn’t want a patient with a ‘reputation’ for rudeness.
In the meantime, I was running out of medication for my high blood pressure and becoming distressed about it. I was outraged at the way I’d been treated. It was so unjust.
After six weeks of searching, I found a good GP not too far away who I stayed with, happily, until I moved to Scotland four years ago. But I have never forgotten this shaming experience or how devastated I was to be so mistreated by a health service I not only trusted, but had devoted so much of my life to.
Writer and mother-of-five Anne Atkins lives in Bedford with her husband, the Rev Shaun Atkins. She says:
I’d always wanted my children born at home, so when my husband and I visited our GP about our first pregnancy, we asked about it.
He wasn’t keen, as one of his colleagues believed her son was disabled because he’d been born at home. We listened carefully, then did our own research. Over the next few weeks, I decided that, in terms of safety, the difference between home and hospital births was negligible. So our first child was born in our bed, in our North London home, attended by NHS midwives.
We made the right choice for us and were happy we had. Within hours of the birth, a nice GP called, said how well we all looked, gave me a couple of stitches and said he would call again the next day. He never did.
Instead, he contacted us a little sheepishly and said he wasn’t allowed to. We had been struck off. No explanation, no warning given — but it was glaringly obvious: the doctor had advised against home birth and we had disobeyed him.
What choice did we have but to approach another surgery? We filled in the forms, had a pleasant chat with one of the doctors and went home. But, a few days later, we heard we couldn’t register there. We had been blackballed by every practice in the area.
When our next child was born – at home – we weren’t registered to a GP. And we still weren’t when our third arrived. By then, we’d gone three years without medical care, except from by midwives. Thankfully, we were young and healthy. Had we had any serious illnesses, it could have been a different story.
We only discovered how notorious we were when a doctor friend from church offered to check me over and give me stitches, if necessary, after the birth of our third child. She came, she stitched, she chatted and then confessed we were known as trouble-makers. No other doctors would have anything to do with us.
So it was true — one doctor’s arrogance had resulted in the complete denial of healthcare for me and my young family.
It was only when we moved house that we found a doctor willing to take us on — and that GP was an advocate of homebirths, too.
Patients put at unacceptable risk as foreign doctors get less NHS training than Boots’ chemists
Boots is a chain of British pharmacies
Patients are being put at ‘unacceptable risk’ because the NHS provides less training for European medical staff than Boots the Chemist does for its pharmacists, peers declared last night.
Continental doctors and nurses are allowed to work without any formal NHS training in an attempt to comply with EU freedom of movement requirements, a House of Lords committee concluded.
By contrast, Boots ensures that European pharmacists undergo a 12-week supervised induction process so they know how the British system differs from their own.
Peers also found that the NHS is being forced to accredit EU medical staff even if their training is years out of date or is well below UK standards.
Some countries even refuse to tell regulators such as the General Medical Council when doctors have been struck off, citing EU data protection directives.
The issue was brought into focus by the case of Dr Daniel Ubani, a German GP who killed 70-year-old David Gray with a tenfold overdose of diamorphine because he did not have the expertise expected of a UK family doctor.
While the GMC can impose strict tests on doctors and nurses from outside Europe, they are not allowed to do so for EU medics because it would impede freedom of movement.
Doctors and nurses are supposed to meet certain levels of training before being allowed to practise here. But different nations’ training programmes vary widely in their quality, and the GMC says often they are 30 years out of date.
Committee chairman Baroness Young of Hornsey said the EU rules amounted to a ‘flawed system’. ‘It is absolutely unacceptable that current EU rules put patients in the UK and elsewhere at risk,’ she said.
‘From regulating bodies being forced to accredit candidates who may not meet UK standards to the fact that there is no way for prospective employers to check an applicant’s disciplinary history thoroughly, the EU is failing our patients.
‘We recognise that mobility within the EU can bring significant benefits, but we have to make sure that this is not at the expense of patients’ health, care and confidence.’
The report said the language skills of foreign doctors and nurses were also a concern. The GMC said that even if medics pass a written English test, this would not help them deal with an upset patient, or understand colloquialisms.
One part of the report criticises trusts for putting patient safety at risk by not ensuring newly arrived European medical staff know how the NHS works. Dr Ubani had not received such an induction, contributing to his errors.
The peers backed the idea of a compulsory ‘induction period’ for all new recruits, which would also brush up on language skills.
Lazy British police again
If she had called someone a “poofter” or a “n*gger” they would have been there with sirens blaring. Her assailant was in fact black
A young mother was beaten to death by her violent ex-partner in front of her two-year-old daughter after police failed to intervene 11 times, UK investigators say.
Casey Brittle, 21, repeatedly called Nottinghamshire Police before she was murdered by Sanchez Williams.
Amerdeep Somal, a commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said Williams, from Nottingham, was “well-known to local police for his propensity for violence and threatening behaviour”.
“In this case it is clear that a number of officers failed to perform to the level expected of them and basic actions, that may have helped others see the full picture of her suffering, were not completed,” the commissioner said.
“No consideration was given to why Casey was reporting domestic abuse but then subsequently saying that she did not want police help.”
Ms Brittle died from a series of injuries to her head, including a fractured jaw, cuts and bruising in October last year.
Williams, of Lathkill Close, was jailed for life after he admitted murdering Casey at her home.
His minimum term of 15 years was increased to 20 years by the Court of Appeal in June after the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, agreed the original sentence was “unduly lenient”.
One of the aggravating features of the case, said Lord Judge, was that the small child had “witnessed the murderous attack on her mother by her father”.
The judge said: “We simply cannot guess the long-term damage which will have been caused to that little girl and we can only hope that her future happiness is not irretrievably damaged.”
Police received allegations of domestic violence and abuse against Ms Brittle between September 2008 and August 2010.
The police watchdog recorded a number of force and individual errors. It said officers had shown a lack of understanding of the force’s domestic abuse policy and procedures, and bail conditions preventing contact with Ms Brittle had not been imposed on Williams.
It also found officers had not passed information on to the domestic abuse support unit, meaning it was not given a high enough priority.
Ms Brittle’s mother Victoria Blower refused to blame police as the report was published.
“I know mistakes were made in dealing with previous attacks involving Casey, but there is only one person responsible for my daughter’s death and that is Sanchez Williams,” she said.
“Maybe one small change in the way things were handled could have saved her, or maybe Sanchez Williams was a time bomb just waiting to explode and nothing that anybody could have said or done was ever going to prevent him from murdering Casey.”
A next-door neighbour was said to have heard Ms Brittle’s daughter screaming “I want my mummy” as her father carried out the killing.
As her mother lay unconscious after the attack, the little girl stayed in a bedroom on her own for two hours.
In a statement, Paul Broadbent, assistant chief constable of Nottinghamshire Police, said the force unreservedly accepted the recommendations of the report and that he deeply regretted Ms Brittle’s death and the circumstances surrounding it and had apologised to her family.
He said: “There had been a history of domestic violence and abuse in Casey’s life involving Williams.
“In the 23 months leading up to her death, a total of 11 separate incidents had been reported to Nottinghamshire Police and for this reason the force asked that the circumstances leading up to her death be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
“Whilst awaiting the IPCC’s report, we took steps to completely revise our approach towards responding to, and identifying, incidents of domestic violence and abuse. This involved an overhaul of working practices, specifically in relation to the identification and management of the risks faced by victims.”
A new training program, including a 20-minute film featuring Ms Brittle’s mother, has also been put in place for all police officers and staff who deal with such cases.
Six officers have appeared before a misconduct meeting and admitted their individual failings in relation to the case.
One received a written warning while three received management advice, Mr Broadbent said. No action was taken against the remaining two.
Four others, who were not required to attend the meeting, have been subject to unsatisfactory performance procedures, he added.
British Libel reforms ‘do not go far enough’ to protect free speech: MPs worried firms flex financial muscle to gag opponents
Reforms to England’s libel laws will not do enough to protect free speech, MPs and peers will say today. A powerful parliamentary committee believes further steps are needed to prevent big corporations using their financial muscle to gag opponents by threatening legal action.
It also wants extra measures to protect scientists and academics who are publishing legitimate research, and to prevent trivial claims ever reaching court.
The committee has been scrutinising the Coalition’s proposals to end the ‘international embarrassment’ that sees rich and powerful foreigners flocking to our courts to silence critics. There has been growing concern about the ‘chilling’ impact of our defamation laws on free speech.
Today’s report from the joint committee on the draft Defamation Bill says many of the Government’s proposals – particularly a move to end trial by jury except in the most serious cases – are ‘worthwhile’. But it says the plans are ‘modest’ and do not address the key problem in defamation law – the ‘unacceptably high costs’ associated with defending cases.
It also argues that powerful corporations should have to obtain permission from the courts before lodging a libel claim to prevent the threat of action being used to silence criticism.
The committee says further steps are needed to reverse a ‘chilling effect’ on scientific debate and investigative journalism.
Critics believe scientists and academics are increasingly being ‘bullied into silence’ when they raise concerns about products or services.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Mawhinney, who chairs the committee, said: ‘Our recommendations should help minimise the reliance on expensive lawyers and the courts, bringing defamation action into the reach of ordinary people.’
Why the Press must stay free to say ‘very rude things’, by Boris
Boris Johnson made a passionate defence of press freedom yesterday, saying the right of newspapers to say ‘very rude things’ about public figures has protected democracy.
In a clear challenge to David Cameron, who has called for the current system of press self-regulation to be torn up, the London Mayor said he would not support restrictions on the media.
Instead, he said he ‘passionately’ sided with Paul Dacre, the Editor of the Daily Mail, who has argued that imposing restrictions on press freedom would have worrying implications for democracy.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly been on the receiving end of media stories about his private life, including details of extra-marital affairs and claims that he fathered a love child.
But the Mayor insisted that the media has a right to upset public figures because openness encourages honesty and stamps out corruption in public life. Speaking at a Westminster lunch, he said: ‘People looking at London see a society that is as honest as anywhere in the world – thanks very largely to the very rude things the media says about so many people.’
Many in the media believe the Government is using the Leveson inquiry, set up by the Prime Minister in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, as a vehicle for muzzling the media in revenge for exposing wrongdoing in the political class.
In a speech to the inquiry last week, Mr Dacre questioned the motives of politicians who had crushed the standing of the Press Complaints Commission, the industry’s regulator. ‘Am I alone,’ he said, ‘in detecting the rank smells of hypocrisy and revenge in the political class’s current moral indignation over a British Press that dared to expose their greed and corruption.’
Mr Dacre said that while he agreed that self-regulation should be ‘beefed up’, it was ‘in a country that regards itself as truly democratic, the only viable way of policing a genuinely free Press’.
British schools issued with discipline ‘checklist’ to boost behaviour
Teachers are being told to punish bad behaviour outside school and shop unruly children to their parents as part of a new crackdown on indiscipline.
Schools are being issued with a 43-point checklist designed to root out the worst offenders and ensure staff reward well-behaved children. The guide – sent to all state schools in England – says pupils should be expected to move around corridors and classrooms in an “orderly manner” at all times.
Heads are told to identify teachers failing to uphold good standards of behaviour and ensure staff set a decent example to children by remaining calm at all times, learning pupils’ names and greeting them as they enter and leave the classroom. In a key move, it also tells staff to display all school rules – and a list of sanctions – clearly in each classroom to establish proper boundaries.
Charlie Taylor, the Government’s new behaviour tsar, warned that a failure to consistently impose rules was one of the key causes of indiscipline in schools. It follows the publication of figures by Ofsted last year that revealed standards of behaviour were not good enough in almost a third of secondary schools and one-in-10 primaries. Indiscipline is also seen as one of the main causes of teachers abandoning the profession altogether.
Unveiling the guide, Mr Taylor, the head teacher of the Willows Special School in west London, said: “There are schools in some of the toughest areas of the country who are getting discipline right, however, some schools struggle with managing and improving behaviour.
“Often the problem is that they aren’t being consistent with their behaviour policy such as ensuring that punishments always happen every time a pupil behaves badly. “As a head teacher I know that where there is inconsistency in schools, children are more likely to push the boundaries.
“If a pupil thinks there is a chance that the school will forget about the detention he has been given, then he is unlikely to bother to turn up. If he gets away with it, the threat of detention will be no deterrent in the future.”
The guide – “Getting the Simple Things Right” – was drawn up following talks with heads of outstanding schools across England. Staff are urged to run through the checklist twice a day – in the morning and after lunch – to maintain consistent discipline standards.
The document – consisting of 22 tips for heads and 21 for teachers – places a strong emphasis on acknowledging decent behaviour. Heads are told to celebrate children’s successes and set up a system of rewards for the best pupils.
It also underlines the importance of keeping staff in check, including ensuring individual teachers remain calm and do not over-use rewards or punishments. The worst teachers should also be identified and monitored, it suggests.
Heads are told to personally patrol lunch halls and playgrounds and check buildings are clean and well maintained.
In a further move, it says staff should “check up on behaviour outside the school” and give “feedback to parents about their child’s behaviour”.
Tax breaks for British firms being hit by ‘absurd’ green targets driving business abroad
George Osborne is preparing to offer tax breaks to firms hit by Britain’s `absurd’ climate change policies after being warned they threaten to drive business abroad. In a major U-turn, the Chancellor will try to help companies that use large amounts of energy.
His move comes amid growing concern that companies and households are being hit heavily by Britain’s commitment to cut carbon emissions faster than other countries.
Yesterday one of the world’s leading industrialists said manufacturing was being `ruinously penalised’ by green taxes and said the levies could put his firm’s £1.2billion investment programme in this country at risk.
Karl-Ulrich Kohler, head of Tata Steel Europe – which employs 20,000 staff in Britain – told the Daily Mail: `Why the UK government wants to go further and be the leader in Europe in this field is difficult for me to understand. It’s a race for the leadership that is simply over the top.
`The UK is one of the weaker industrial players in Europe. Why are we trying to be a leader on the green front when the economy is in such a hard place?’ He added: `If the UK becomes less attractive due to regulation and tax, then there are other places in the world to invest. The Government must see that.’
Mr Osborne’s plans are sure to set him on collision course with his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues.
Last night Whitehall sources told the Mail the Chancellor is working on radical proposals to mitigate the effects on companies that use large amounts of energy, such as cement, aluminium and steel makers.
Tax breaks and exemptions from new carbon levies are expected to be included in a mini-Budget due next month. A source close to Mr Osborne said: `We recognise that a decade of environmental laws and regulations have piled costs on the energy bills of energy intensive business.
`As well as increasing the climate change levy discount on electricity and reducing corporation tax, he will be announcing a package of measures to help energy intensive industries remain competitive in due course. `There’s no point forcing energy intensive industries to relocate to other countries – that would only harm our economy without reducing global carbon emissions.’
Last year David Cameron said he wanted the Coalition to be known as the `greenest government ever’. And Mr Osborne alarmed industry when he announced a `carbon floor price’ in his Budget last March – essentially a tax on emissions that will raise £3.2billion by 2016.
Former Conservative Chancellor Lord Lawson, a leading climate change sceptic, said tax breaks for the hardest-hit industries were a good `first step’. The current policies are endangering the economy at a particularly difficult time,’ he said. `I hope the Chancellor will as soon as possible spell out exactly what he proposes to do to prevent this.
`The real need is not to have these absurd commitments and then have to run around bribing vulnerable businesses at taxpayers’ expense so as to prevent them from closing down or leaving the country – it is to amend the [emissions] targets. `We must make it quite clear that we are not going there if the rest of the world isn’t.’
Under Labour’s Climate Change Act, the Government is legally bound to cut emissions 35 per cent by 2022 and 50 per cent by 2025. But the EU is committed only to cutting emissions 20 per cent by 2020. Several countries are rejecting calls for them to increase the target to 30 per cent.
Tory MP David Davis, a former leadership contender, said: `George Osborne must stand his ground against the Lib Dems on this issue. `There is absolutely no point in having such draconian environmental policies that heavy energy-using industries like steel and chemicals up sticks and go and create just as much pollution in India and China, but to our economic disadvantage. It is simply not a rational policy.’
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said it was vital for Britain to reduce its dependence on oil and gas imports from `volatile’ parts of the world. He said volatility in fossil fuel prices was primarily responsible for pushing up household bills.
Ministers’ obsession with green taxes is driving up energy bills, bringing financial pain to millions of families, it was claimed last night. But the Government energy summit yesterday offered no hope that struggling families and businesses will be offered lower energy bills this winter. Both Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and British Gas managing director Phil Bentley admitted that price rises were here to stay.
The `big six’ energy giants have increased tariffs by 15 per cent-plus in recent weeks, raising the average annual dual fuel bill by around £175 to £1,345.
This figure is inflated by around £100 to cover a raft of green taxes and associated charges, which are set to soar in the next decade. Mr Huhne is the chief cheerleader for the charges, which are being used to fund a £200billion shift to wind, wave, solar and nuclear power.
Yesterday he insisted that prices in Britain were `relatively good’ compared with elsewhere in the world but admitted: `If you are asking me to predict what is going to happen to world fossil fuel prices then the Government’s prediction… is that in the medium-run those prices are going to go up. The companies are not the Salvation Army. We expect them to earn respectable returns for their shareholders.’
Mr Bentley added: `In the last two and a half years, gas prices on the international market are up by 70 per cent. I’m afraid it is an inconvenient truth that those costs have to be passed on to customers.’
Mr Huhne said customers should shop around as up to 85 per cent `don’t bother’ to look for a better deal. He said: `This is not small beer. If you look at the figures on an average dual fuel bill of about £1,300, by switching you can get £200 off.’
But yesterday Simon Walker, the new director general of the Institute of Directors, said it was `simply not credible’ for the Government politely to ask energy firms to curb bills. He warned that the current push for green energy is driving up bills, saying: `Current policies risk locking us into cleaner and more expensive energy, when the goal should be cleaner and cheaper energy.
`What may have been tolerable in an age of affluence is far less realistic today. Undermining the UK’s competitiveness through high energy costs would do no favours to either economic recovery or the environment.’
David Cameron is under pressure to reverse a cut in the Winter Fuel Payment for millions of pensioners who cannot afford to keep the heating on. This winter, over-80s will see the grant reduced to £300, a £100 drop from last year. Younger pensioners will receive £200, a £50 cut. In total, 9.2million households will be affected.