Saturday, January 10, 2009

Starved to death in an NHS hospital: Damning inquiry highlights case of patient left without food for 26 days

Nobody gives a stuff when you are in the hands of the government

A vulnerable patient starved to death in an NHS hospital after 26 days without proper nourishment. Martin Ryan, 43, had suffered a stroke which left him unable to swallow. But a 'total breakdown in communication' meant he was never fitted with a feeding tube. It was one of a number of horrific cases where the NHS fatally failed patients with learning difficulties, a health watchdog is expected to rule later this month.

Emma Kemp, 26, was denied cancer treatment that could have saved her life, while 30-year-old Mark Cannon died two months after being admitted to hospital with a broken leg. Three other cases followed similar patterns, with warnings ignored or problems missed until it was too late, often because the patients had difficulty communicating.

Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, is expected to deliver a withering verdict in her report. Sources said the overall picture of neglect that it paints is devastating. Campaigners will seize on the findings as evidence of a wider problem of institutional discrimination in the health service.

The father of one man who died, who was just 20, said: 'People like my son are treated as less than human'. The six cases were first highlighted by the disability charity Mencap in a report entitled Death By Indifference. The charity, which has complained of 'widespread ignorance' in the NHS, says many more cases have emerged since then.

Sources close to the Ombudsman's inquiry said its findings will vindicate Mencap's attack almost totally. One said: 'The Ombudsman will issue a damning verdict in most, though not all, of the cases. 'In some cases the NHS's treatment of vulnerable people was quite shocking - a patient effectively being starved to death is indefensible. 'There will be a lot for NHS trusts and politicians to chew over.'

The report will intensify pressure on ministers to rapidly ensure tighter procedures for the care of such vulnerable patients. Tory spokesman Anne Milton said: 'Unfortunately we are still seeing some pretty shocking cases where people's needs have been neglected and they are not gaining equal access to the NHS. 'Although these might be isolated incidents, every case like this is one too many. 'This is another deeply worrying example of how the Government has yet to get to grips with providing first-class care for everyone, including people with disabilities.'

Mr Ryan, who had Down's syndrome, died in hospital in Kingston-upon-Thames. An internal inquiry by the hospital found that doctors had thought nurses were feeding him through a tube in his nose. By the time they found out this was not happening, he was too weak for an operation to insert a tube into his stomach. He died in agony five days later.

Mr Ryan's distraught family, from Richmond, South-west London, are convinced he could have been saved by the correct treatment. One relative said of him: 'Martin will always be the light of my life. He had a quirky sense of humour and oodles of charm. He was often smiling - he loved to go out, liked the movement of the coach and listening to the music.'

Death by Indifference was published in 2007 as part of Mencap's long-running Treat Me Right! campaign for better healthcare for people with learning disabilities. Mark Goldring, Mencap's chief executive, said: 'Our report exposed the horrific deaths of six people with a learning disability who died unnecessarily in NHS care. 'We have fought and will continue our fight for justice for their families. 'The Ombudsman's reports must condemn the appalling failings of the NHS in these six cases. 'They need to make it impossible for people with a learning disability to continue to die unnecessarily. A failure to do this would be irrational and perverse. 'The reports have a duty to challenge complacency, where it has been shown to exist within the health service, when treating people with a learning disability and must hold individuals to account for their actions.'

The Ombudsman's inquiry, which covers just the six cases, will mirror the findings of a wider investigation into the treatment of vulnerable patients which was ordered by the Government after Mencap's report came out. Chaired by Sir Jonathan Michael, a former chief executive of Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, it found that the deaths highlighted by the charity were 'not isolated' incidents. A spokesman for the Ombudsman declined to comment before the report is published.

There are 1.5million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap says most are treated as ' different' and do not have the same control over their own lives as the rest of society.

Earlier this week the Mail revealed the growing scandal of 'avoidable deaths' in the NHS. Figures showed that the number of patients killed by hospital blunders has soared by 60 per cent in two years to a frightening 3,645.


Australia: Another birth in a public hospital toilet

Aint government medicine wonderful?

A WOMAN has told how she miscarried "in a blur" in a hospital toilet then cleaned up the area herself. Mother-of-two Jodie Whiteside was 14 weeks pregnant when she felt something was "wrong". After believing her waters had broken, and able to see the leg of her child, Ms Whiteside headed to Maitland Hospital, about 30 minutes drive from her home in the New South Wales Hunter region. "En route my husband phoned up the Maitland Hospital emergency department to say what had happened and that I was on my way," Ms Whiteside said on the Fairfax Radio Network. "It was a blase response, basically that I have to be processed like everyone else and wait to see the triage nurse."

On arrival at the hospital, Ms Whiteside said she was "in a lot of pain, cowering over the counter" while she was being asked for her personal details. A triage nurse then asked Ms Whiteside a series of questions. "I said that I saw the baby coming away and she proceeded to take my blood pressure, I think that she took my temperature and she gave me a plastic pot and said 'I need a urine sample'," she said. "I told her that I was 14 weeks pregnant ... I asked her 'if I'm miscarrying what do I do?' She said there is nothing they can do and instructed me to go to the toilet."

After making her way through a crowded emergency department waiting room, Ms Whiteside reached the women's public toilet. "It's a bit of a blur to me, all I know is I gave birth to the child, I had it in my hands, I was given no other option, I just didn't know what to do ... I put it in the toilet and I had what they call afterbirth everywhere and I was thinking what poor woman wants to come into the cubicle after me," she said. "I tried to tidy it up a bit because it was just a mess."

A short time later Ms Whiteside was found a bed, was given an ultrasound and saw a doctor. She was offered surgery or told she could go home, and was then told that thousands of women had gone through what she had just experienced. Ms Whiteside chose to go home and has since written letters of complaint to the hospital and NSW Health Minister.

Chief executive of the Hunter New England Area Health Service, Nigel Lyons publicly apologised to Ms Whiteside today. "Let me say I'm very distressed to hear about the circumstances of Jodie's care," he said on Fairfax Radio Network. "It's clear that the distress that was caused by Jodie's experience at the hospital is something that we deeply regret and apologise for. "We'll fully investigate this and find out what's occurred and why and what we can do better. But the aspects that come through to me is that it is about the care that we've provided in terms of sensitivity."

Her experience is similar to that of Jana Horska, who miscarried in a Sydney hospital toilet in September 2007 after waiting two hours in the emergency department.


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