Doris, 95, was left on a hospital trolley for 28 hours – and when her son asked where she was, doctors didn’t have a clue…
Frightened and alone, 95-year-old Doris Miller lay on her hospital trolley as hour after hour went by, wondering why no one had come to see her. The old lady was exhausted and in pain after falling in the shower and hurting her leg. But following the drama of the ambulance dash to A&E, she had been wheeled into an ante-room …. and parked there, like a piece of left luggage, for 28 hours.
Away from the routine meal-and-tea rounds on the wards, she had been given hardly anything to eat or drink and no proper medical care. She vaguely recalls being given a sandwich or two, but can’t quite remember by whom.
And she simply could not understand why her devoted son Michael had not arrived.
As day turned to night, and night became morning, Mrs Miller became more confused, distressed, and fearful for her safety. She had no way of knowing that Michael, 67, had been frantically searching for her — but East Surrey Hospital in Redhill had completely lost track of where they had put her.
In fact, they managed to locate her only after Mr Miller called the hospital chief executive to say he was phoning the police to report his mother as a missing person. ‘I was furious,’ said Mr Miller. ‘This is what happens when you put too much pressure on a system that doesn’t work.’
An appalling but isolated case? If only it were. Earlier this month, the College of Emergency Medicine (CEM), which represents A&E doctors, told NHS managers that they should routinely leave patients on hospital trolleys to alleviate overcrowding in casualty units.
A&E departments have become a bottleneck in a NHS that is struggling to cope with reductions in staff and services caused by Government demands for £20 billion in efficiency savings by 2014. All this at a time when A&E attendances at English hospitals have exploded from 12.9 million in 2001 to 20.7 million in 2010.
Some of this is caused by population growth, but much of it is due to GPs radically cutting surgery opening hours and out-of-hours visits, leaving patients with nowhere else to turn.
Casualty units are also severely affected by the continued rise of Britain’s binge-drinking culture following the introduction in 2003 of licensing laws which permitted 24-hour drinking.
Around a third of all A&E attendance and ambulance costs are alcohol-related, according to a report on the impact of drink on the NHS, published in 2009 by the Institute of Alcohol Studies.
The CEM says the demands being placed on A&E units are so great that it has become an unfortunate necessity to ‘board’ patients on trolleys in corridors outside full wards, queuing for beds to become free.
The college says that leaving patients on trolleys should be a stop-gap measure only until the NHS modifies its procedures to cope with the ever-growing pressures. But patients such as Mrs Miller are already suffering.
She was taken to East Surrey Hospital at 10am on April 11 last year after the fall at her home in nearby Horley. Her son Michael, who was working in another part of the county, called the hospital as soon as he heard and was first told she was ‘resting’ in A&E.
Hours later, when he checked again, he was told she had been transferred to a care home. ‘I asked which home she was in, but they wouldn’t tell me because of “data protection”,’ he says.
Mr Miller persisted, and an hour later the hospital rang him to say that she had actually been transferred to a ward within the hospital. ‘I rang the ward, but they said they had never heard of her,’ he says. ‘The next morning, I was told she was on another ward, so I checked with that ward, and again they said that they had never heard of her.’
Finally, the hospital admitted they were having trouble locating Doris. ‘It was now 2pm the following day,’ remembers Michael. ‘I rang the chief executive and said that if she were not promptly found I would report her to the police as a missing person.’
Ten minutes later the hospital telephoned to say she had been found in an ante-room at the A&E department, still on her trolley after 28 hours.
‘When I finally saw her, she looked dehydrated, confused and distressed,’ says Michael. ‘She had received no proper care.’
Like many elderly people, Mrs Miller, who now lives in a care home, did not feel able to buttonhole the hard-pressed staff as they bustled past, and she had no buzzer to summon help. ‘I didn’t want to complain but I was in there a long time, and they left me alone for long periods in the corridor,’ she recalls.
The hospital insists Mrs Miller had been properly cared for in A&E, but that it had launched an inquiry into the communication breakdown.
Michael Wilson, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, has said of the case: ‘Clearly this is not the experience we want for our patients and I am pleased to say that the vast majority of our patients do receive good to excellent care.’ ‘She was dehydrated and distressed when we finally found her’
However, Mr Miller says: ‘They have closed two hospitals round here and East Surrey is caring for half a million people. It is the vulnerable who suffer.’
Vulnerable people such as 74-year-old Paule Ripley, who was admitted to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth last year with an irregular heartbeat and breathing difficulties.
She arrived in A&E at midday and was wheeled into the medical assessment unit to await admission. There was never any doubt that she needed a hospital bed. Yet 12 hours later she was still there, lying on a trolley, hungry and thirsty. ‘The whole experience was very frightening,’ said Mrs Ripley, of Gosport.
A spokesman for the hospital trust, while refusing to comment on Mrs Ripley’s individual case, said: ‘In the five years to March 2012 we have never failed to meet the national NHS target of a maximum 12-hour wait on a hospital trolley. Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has one of the busiest emergency departments in the country.’
But Mrs Ripley said her experience there was unbearable. ‘It almost killed me,’ she said. ‘The trolley was uncomfortable and I didn’t have the strength to lift myself. No nurses came to see me. The doctor, when he did come, said I should be in a ward, in a bed, immediately. I hoped what happened to me was a one-off, but I fear it’s becoming the norm.’
If not the norm, then such cases are certainly becoming ever more common. One year after Health Secretary Andrew Lansley scrapped Labour’s target that 98 per cent of A&E patients must be seen by a medical professional within four hours, figures released last month by the NHS Information Centre reveal that many patients are now waiting up 24 hours, with many spending the night on trolleys.
The new rule is that managers are expected to investigate if more than five per cent of patients wait more than four hours.
But that limit is now being regularly broken every day across the country: figures from the NHS Information Centre show that nearly 900,000 people (5.6 per cent of patients) had to wait longer than four hours last year.
But as politicians debate the issue, there is no question that patients are suffering — even dying — after being left for too long on trolleys.
This was starkly highlighted last month when a 77-year-old man died alone and unnoticed on an A&E trolley in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, after being parked for 22 hours in the hospital’s A&E department. The man, who’d had motor neurone disease for 18 months, died on March 6. His family do not wish to be identified, but his 71-year-old partner told reporters that she was heartbroken he died ‘alone on a trolley with no one holding his hand’.
The hospital is holding an inquiry into the incident and says it will not comment further until that investigation is complete. But it is reported to have promised the family that no patient of the hospital would ever again spend more than 12 hours on a trolley.
More than 12 hours? It seems a sad fact that we have already reached the stage where NHS managers think it reasonable to leave sick patients for half a day lying frightened and sick in corridors and side rooms because of lack of bed capacity.
If vulnerable people are expected to languish on trolleys for such extended periods, it is surely a proof that our health service chiefs are completely off theirs.
29% rise in patients forced to stay in hospital – despite the fact they are fit enough to leave
The number of patients having to stay in hospital for longer than they need to has risen by more than a quarter as councils battle to find places for the elderly.
Figures released by the Department of Health and published in The Daily Telegraph, reveal that the number of additional days patients have had to spend in hospital after they have been declared fit enough to leave increased by 10 per cent in March.
When compared against figures from August 2010 the problem of ‘bed blocking’ has gone up by 29 per cent. Patients are unable to be discharged until suitable care has been arranged for them either in a nursing home or in their own home to assist with their recovery.
The cause of the delay is thought to have been brought on by cuts to council budgets which have meant NHS hospital beds have had to take up some of the slack.
Patients can also be delayed as they await transfer to other hospitals for treatment.
In March there were 71,450 delayed days in hospitals, up from 64,590 in February this year and 55,330 in August 2010.
However, officials have said it is not fair to draw comparisons between winter and summer periods because hospitals are much busier in the colder season.
The delays cost the taxpayer £18.5million a month or £600,000 every day with the total bill for delayed discharges since August 2010 a whopping £324million.
Labour Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, Liz Kendall, said: ‘More than £1.3billion has been cut from older people’s social care since the Government came to power, but cutting vital services and support for older people ends uup costing us all more.
Health Minister Simon Burns said the NHS faces challenges from an ageing population and rising costs of new treatments.
When did Britain become the kind of country that tolerates voting fraud?
Labour’s massive expansion of postal voting opened the door to electoral fraud
The old woman was pleased to see me, though undoubtedly confused as to why a 16-year-old boy she’d not previously met was crouched by her chair. I’d never been in a sheltered housing day-room before, but it doesn’t take more than a moment to register the residents’ tangible desire for company – any company – and it unsettled me. Because it was this desire that we were there to abuse.
“Hello. I’m here on behalf of the local Conservatives. It’s to remind you about the elections next week. Have you sent in your postal vote, yet?”
I’d accepted the canvassing mission because “We have to get there before the Labour Party does; they’ll vote for whoever comes first”; and of course, as a new Young Conservative, I wanted our party to win. But even a teenager’s conscience is sufficiently developed to tell right from wrong, and I knew, from the elderly woman’s trusting smile, that this was wrong. Twenty-odd years before the Electoral Commission got round to suggesting that maybe party activists should stop asking voters for their postal votes (PVs), I resolved that I’d never ask for one again.
My decades-old embarrassment seems almost quaintly innocent now: I was only asking for completed and sealed PVs, in order to ensure they reached the returning officer on time; no one in Ayrshire Conservatives would have dreamt of interfering with the actual vote itself.
For there was once a sanctity to the act of voting; your vote was between you and your conscience. Even Presbyterians like me understood something inviolable to take place in the instant between the pencil being gripped and the cross being marked; the act was so secular-holy that it would have been an obscenity for a third party to witness it, let alone interfere with it. That’s why we had curtains on polling booths. And that’s why only the bedridden (and servicemen) were excused the walk to the polling station: it was your civic duty to make the effort to vote.
No more. Since those days, of course, we’ve had a Labour government, and were it still in power, I suspect by now we’d be voting on X Factor-style 0898 numbers (“Hello! You’ve got through to Harriet Harman’s Vote-Line! Votes cast after polling day may not be counted, though you’ll still pay a heavy price”) or by scraping at petrol station scratch-cards (“They’re All The Same! So Why Not Vote By Lucky Dip?”).
What Labour did achieve was a deliberate, massive expansion in voting by envelope. Since nearly every government minister started off as a party activist, they must have known the potential for abuse that such a switch entailed, but they pressed on regardless; we reap what they sowed.
In the London borough of Tower Hamlets, where a Ken Livingstone supporter is mayor, the number of registered voters increased by a “surprising” 7,023, in a single month, between April and May 2010. Likewise, in a borough with a large Bangladeshi community – not a society to which the concept of communal voting is unknown, or one famous for its liberated women – the proportion of postal votes has inexorably grown.
Some of the worst frauds have made their way to the courts. In a case in Birmingham, in 2005, Judge Richard Mawrey likened our postal vote-heavy system to that of a banana republic. The same judge is reported this week as saying that postal voting fraud remains rife.
It’s not the cases that get to court that matter, though. It is sufficient for us all to be aware of the ongoing violation of the secret ballot’s sanctity, for a mockery to be made of our entire democratic process. Postal vote fraud is widespread; we all know this; the effect is corrosive.
But it’s OK. A report by the Electoral Commission – which rates electoral registration in Tower Hamlets as “good” – tells us to chill. The key finding in its review of 2010 general election fraud was to declare itself not “aware of any case reported to the police that affected the outcome of the election to which it related nor of any election that has had to be re-run as a result of electoral malpractice”. It’s bad enough we pay for this quango at all, worse that it prefers to be “not aware” of the widespread voting malpractice in such boroughs as Tower Hamlets.
The Electoral Commission is still led by Jenny Watson, even after the 2010 polling day debacle. She’s on a hundred grand a year, and is described on her Wikipedia page as a “long-term campaigner for women’s rights”. Were I a “long-term campaigner for women’s rights”, let alone in charge of the state outfit that regulates elections, I’d have something to say about patriarch-driven postal vote farming in communities where many women remain culturally and linguistically excluded from the mainstream.
Jenny Watson’s quango may be blithely unconcerned about the potential of postal vote fraud to affect next week’s London mayoral election. I wonder if Ken Livingstone’s supporters in Tower Hamlets take a similarly indifferent view of its potential?
Wacky British school inspectors
Teachers claim they have been reprimanded by Ofsted inspectors for having pupils who are ‘too well behaved and polite’ and for marking work with ‘back to front’ left-handed ticks.
A list of bizarre complaints has been revealed, including one about a teacher who was eight months pregnant but told she was being downgraded because she ‘didn’t move around the room enough’.
The Times Educational Supplement yesterday reported that hundreds of teachers are flooding its online forum to share scathing accounts of the inspectors employed to judge them. Some inspectors are accused of falling asleep on the job.
One PE teacher was reportedly told that their lesson was ‘unsatisfactory’ as there were ‘children doing nothing at some points in the lesson’. The decision was overturned after it was pointed out that the pupils were fielding in a cricket match.
Another teacher described how a group of eight-year-olds were building models to demonstrate the Roman central heating system. The inspector declared it ‘the best design and technology lesson I’ve seen this year’.
One teacher was told: ‘That was a good lesson, but I’m going to mark it down as satisfactory because you talked too much.’
A food and technology teacher was told that the way to improve their lesson from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ was to ‘put all the pupils in chef’s whites instead of aprons’.
And one teacher said an inspector observed her lesson and complained: ‘Your children are rather too well behaved and polite.’
Ofsted’s desire to ensure that all minority groups achieve highly also led to confusion. One teacher was told that the 25 per cent ‘success rate’ for male Bengali sixth-formers was a ‘serious issue’ that could lead to a downgrading. In fact, out of only four such pupils, one was being treated for cancer, another had died in a road accident and a third was in a young offenders’ institution.
An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘It is difficult to respond to rumour and anecdote. ‘It is worth keeping in mind that out of thousands of inspections each year, Ofsted receives complaints about less than 3 per cent.’
Salad growers find that salad is good for you
With such a tiny sample (10) this is PR, not science. It is amazing what academic journals will print these days. As long as it serves the antioxidant religion, I guess ….
Researchers have found that antioxidant-rich watercress can alleviate the natural stress put on our body by a workout. And they found that participants with no watercress in their system who ate the leafy vegetable just two hours before high level exercise still experienced the same level of protection.
Though regular moderate exercise is known to be good for us, the increased demand on our bodies can cause damage to our DNA.
According to a new study from scientists at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Ulster, eating watercress can prevent some of the damage caused by high intensity exercise and help maximise the benefits of a tough workout. The study findings have now been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Study leader Dr Mark Fogarty, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Life, Sport and Social Sciences, said: “Although we are all aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill, lifting weights, or doing high-levels of training can take its toll. The increased demand on the body for energy can create a build-up of free radicals which can damage our DNA.
“What we’ve found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies, and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit. It’s an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research.”
Ten healthy men, aged on average of 23 years, participated in the study. For eight weeks they were given 85 grams of watercress — a small bag — and asked to participate in high-level exercise on the treadmill. An eight week study with no watercress consumption was carried out to act as a control.
The scientists also tested whether the protection properties of watercress were affected by the regularity of consumption.
Dr Fogarty said: “We put participants through short bursts of intense exercise and found that those who had not eaten watercress were found to have more DNA damage than those that did not. What was also fascinating is that the effect of eating watercress was not reliant on an accumulative build-up in our bodies. Those that ate the vegetable just two hours before exercise experienced the same benefits as those who had consumed the vegetable for eight weeks.”
The study was sponsored by Vitacress Salads, one of Europe’s growers of watercress.
The British council that kept its prayers – by dropping God
“For as long as anyone can remember, councillors in Gloucestershire have stood up for a brief prayer before their meetings get under way.
But when three agnostic and atheist members staged a protest against the historic practice by remaining seated, the chairman decided something must be done to retain council unity.
So he hit upon an apparently ingenious solution: from now on, the prayer would still be said – but with all references to God removed.
So rather than asking “may He give us wisdom to carry out our duties …”, the chairman now states “may we find the wisdom …” – and the “prayer” still ends with the chairman leading other members in saying “amen”.
The authority is one of dozens across Britain which have recently scrapped or significantly altered their custom of saying prayers at the start of meetings under pressure from secular campaigners, who argue the practice breaches their human rights and excludes non-believers and people from other faiths.