The Cult of Cruelty in the NHS by Vivi Steels

Posted on February 5, 2016 at 6:05 AM



I have been reading for years about the way older patients are treated in the NHS. But I know this from first-hand.  About 6 years ago my mother spent nine months in hospitals and I feel the hospital system killed her. This is a condensed version of it.


My husband and I went to collect my lovely mother, who was 88. She had just had a minor operation to unblock some grafted veins in her legs. She was fine and really looking forward to getting back to her warden-aided flat where she lived a very independent life having moved from our family home in 2000.


But when we arrived she was writhing in agony on her bed. She had wanted to go to the toilet and needed help to get there. No one had responded to her bell, so she set off to the toilets on her own. While there she fell and broke her right hip. It is incredulous to me how many older patients fall and break their hips while in hospital and it is an utter disgrace that while supposedly being in a hospital and being cared-for, patients engender an often fatal fall.


I had to battle every day to get my mother the care she deserved. Nurses moaned about having to make her bed if she’d been restless and disturbed the blankets and sheets. One day I came to visit and she was lying flat on her back with a hospital gown up under her arms exposing a nappy-type pad. She was very distressed and shredding tissues in one hand. Male visitors were walking past. I raised the top of her bed pulled her gown down and made the bed around her. I collected and washed her nighties every day and there were several clean ones in her locker. I hunted down and found her lost glasses and slippers and false teeth (this was a daily occurrence). I pulled the curtains round and put a clean nightie and bed-jacket on. She gradually calmed down and we had a good chat. Then I went to see someone in charge. I was very angry and said how I felt my mother was NOT being treated with dignity and respect and she was not gaga, but a very much with-it lady who was normally very independent and active. How could they treat her like that?


After progressing quite well my mother was moved to a convalescent hospital where I visited nearly every day. I made sure my mother had a diary and photos of us to look at. My mother was making good progress but a large part of her care was missing. One day I visited I found her with her head down on her arms sitting at a table near her bed. She looked up when I came towards her. She looked totally bereft. “Life wouldn’t be worth living if it wasn’t for you,” she said. “Could you wash my feet for me? I think they smell.” I asked someone for a bowl and used the soap from the washbasin plus some hand towels and washed her feet for her. “You’re an angel,” she said smiling down at me. I combed her hair, bathed her eyes, found her glasses and her book.


She really perked up and after drying her feet off and putting her socks and slippers on, and a warm coat, I took her in her wheelchair to the lovely garden in the centre of the wards where there was a fishpond, ducks and a wooden bridge over it. I made her laugh by pushing her, rushing up and over the bridge and round the garden at a fast pace. We then had hot chocolate from the vending machine and sat with the sun on our faces and ducks at our feet.


Before the next time to visit I received a phone call. My mother had fallen and broken her left hip… I could not believe that this gross negligence had happened again. I went to collect her things then back to the hospital where she was down for an emergency operation. This went ahead and after the operation my mother’s character changed. I looked this up and found Hospital Delirium was a well-known phenomenon after general anaesthetics and prolonged stays in hospitals. The nursing staff on the new ward were angry with my mother about her temporary surly and unusual behaviour, which was understandable after two hip breaks and two general anaesthetics. But they didn’t seem to know what Hospital Delirium was and here was I, a lay-person, telling them about something they should know about. I did notice a few months later a notice about Hospital Delirium appeared on the ward wall.


I battled on visiting and making sure she received the care she should and trying to get her into the Nursing Home opposite her flat complex. One day stands out where I was visiting at a weekend. My mother was in terrible pain. I approached a nurse who said she was too busy, then shot into a ward where she joined her colleagues all standing round having a chat. Usually this was round the nurses’ station when patients would be ringing their bells and desperate for help while the staff on duty ignored them and carried on laughing and joking. I once stood to wait to speak to someone and was summarily ignored for over ten minutes…


I approached a doctor I saw in the corridor despairing about my mother’s pain. As I explained, this woman doctor laughed at me and started walking away from me as I was still asking for help. I have never felt so alone, so hopeless, so angry… her pain was never managed properly in hospital and I cannot believe in this day and age that pain relief isn’t effective. I asked if the Pain Management Team could see her and the day they came my mother’s notes had been misplaced and they couldn’t do anything effective.


I battled on to get my mother in to the Nursing Home. Eventually she was allowed to go but mustn’t walk on her hip for a few weeks as she had a slight hairline fracture of the right femur. I went to see the Sister at the Nursing Home to discuss her medicines and remember saying she was on a sleeping tablet nightly. My mother was so happy to be there after all those months in hospital and I greeted her as she arrived by ambulance. She had been telling all the ambulance crew about me!! I thought that things would improve.


But that first night was awful for her. The next day I was greeted by a lady who used to clean for her. “Your mother’s had a dreadful night and been shouting her head off and disturbing everyone.” I was so angry. Who was discussing my mother like this? The Matron of the Nursing Home and the man in charge of the warden-aided flats had been discussing my mother’s first night in the Nursing Home with other people. I thought this was most unprofessional – this should have been private. I found out that my mother had not been given her sleeping tablet in a mix-up over medication even though I had gone through this with the Sister earlier. When elderly people have sleeping tablets long-term and then aren’t given them they can get severe withdrawal symptoms, which is what my mother experienced. She had been left in complete darkness with the lamp turned off and my mother had been having terrible nightmares and crawling to the bottom of her bed. When it was discovered about the non-dispensing of sleeping tablets the Matron did apologise to me.


Being fiercely independent my mother found the Nursing Home community living quite difficult. Plus the night staff were stretched and never came when she rang the bell. Her washing was always lost. We had got my mother a mobile phone while in hospital and I rang her every night. My night-time talks with her at the Home revealed how unhappy she was. One evening she had wanted to go to the toilet. No one had come so she got off the bed and wandered to her bathroom herself. She fell and broke her right femur badly. I knew she would never recover from this.


The last time I saw my mother with her natural and cheery character had long gone. When we visited in hospital again one day she complained of terrible pain in her back and I was concerned she had a bed sore. On bringing this up with various staff, they all dismissed it, yet she developed a terrible Stage 1V bedsore at the base of her spine which caused awful pain. The femur had been reset but the wound wasn’t healing and my mother underwent the very painful treatments of debridement. Still the pain medication given wasn’t touching her pain levels.


As I walked the hospital corridors to get to my mother’s ward, I would always pray and ask God and the angels to be with me and I don’t think I could have carried on without this spiritual help. My husband was so supportive and picked me up each night after work and came up to see my mother too. We visited together at weekends.


One day I visited and her bed was empty. Where was she? Had she died? I panicked. No one had told me. She’d been moved to a side ward. Her agony continued and although I tried to see him, I never met her Consultant, but wrote to him about my concerns and spoke to him on the phone.


There were a few lovely staff who really seemed to care, but these were very much in minority and off-set by what I can only call a cult of cruelty in the NHS. Do these people who dish out this awful care realise they will be old and ill and vulnerable one day? What sort of treatment would they like then?


My mother died two days after my birthday. I had a phone call at 5.30am and burst into tears – tears of pain at what she’d suffered, tears of anger at some of her treatment, tears of relief she wasn’t suffering anymore, tears of abject grief that I wouldn’t see her anymore on this side of life.


My husband and I have said when the time comes we are adamant want to die at home in our own bed and if this shortens our life then so be it.



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