Thursday, March 26, 2009

Six die as vulnerable patients 'failed' by 'appalling' NHS

Six vulnerable people died in NHS care in a system which has demonstrated a litany of "significant and distressing failures", an official report has concluded. One man died as a result of failings in his care and it is likely that a second man's death could have been avoided, the Health Service and Local Government Ombudsmen ruled. Patients with learning difficulties were treated less favourably than others, resulting in "prolonged suffering and inappropriate care", their report said.

When their relatives complained about the care given to their loved ones, they were left "drained and demoralised and with a feeling of hopelessness".

The charity Mencap said the conclusions were a "damning indictment" that confirmed an "appalling catalogue of neglect". The investigation was launched after Mencap made a complaint on behalf of the families of six vulnerable people who died in NHS or local authority care between 2003 and 2005.

The two ombudsmen called for an urgent review of health and social care for those with learning disabilities. They found that Mark Cannon, 30, died as a consequence of public service failure by the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust and Havering Council in east London. Mr Cannon, of Romford, Essex, was epileptic and had a severe learning difficulty which meant he had very little speech. In June 2003 he broke his leg at a council care home and, despite receiving hospital treatment, died eight weeks later.

The ombudsmen concluded that he had been left in severe pain and great distress for prolonged periods, and was twice discharged from hospital without due concern for his safety. They also upheld a complaint against the Healthcare Commission, finding that the regulator's review of a complaint by Mr Cannon's parents was "unreliable and unsafe".

The report - entitled Six Lives - found it was "likely" that the death of Martin Ryan, 43, another patient with learning disabilities, could have been avoided had his care and treatment not fallen so far below the required standard. Mr Ryan, of Richmond, south west London, who had Down's syndrome and epilepsy, went without food for 26 days while in hospital after suffering a stroke in November 2005.

The Health Service Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, concluded that Kingston Hospital NHS Trust gave him less favourable care because of his disability. She found the failure to feed Mr Ryan for nearly four weeks "undoubtedly placed him at considerable risk of harm".

The investigation also looked at the care given to four other people with learning disabilities whose cases were highlighted in a March 2007 Mencap report called Death By Indifference. Ms Abraham said: "The recurrence of complaints across different agencies leads us to believe that the quality of care in the NHS and social services for people with learning disabilities is at best patchy and at worst an indictment of our society. "Six Lives has highlighted distressing failures in the quality of health and social care services for people with learning disabilities.

Local Government Ombudsman Jerry White added: "Six Lives shows that on many occasions basic policy and guidance were not observed, the needs of people with learning disabilities were not accommodated and services were unco-ordinated."

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said: "The ombudsman's reports are a damning indictment of NHS care for people with a learning disability. "They confirm the findings in Mencap's Death by Indifference report of the widespread failure by health professionals to provide the proper level of care and highlight an appalling catalogue of neglect of people with a learning disability."

Care Services Minister Phil Hope said: "Preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities are absolutely unacceptable. "We are taking action to ensure that people with learning disabilities get the equal access to the health care that they deserve."

David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, said: "There must be no room for complacency and a relentless focus on attempting to continually improve the services we provide to some of the most vulnerable members of society. "Health and social care organisations are already reviewing the services for those with learning difficulties because they are determined to ensure the needs of these people are put first."


NHS lets down injured solier

Albert Thomson was only six days into the war in Iraq when he lost his left leg after a Warrior armoured vehicle accidentally opened fire on him. He was treated in an NHS hospital in Roehampton and, though he praises the care he receives, he says that the civilian system did not have the right resources. "I was in the same queue as everybody else," he said. "The NHS couldn't supply what I needed."

Eventually he went private, buying a 25,000 pound state-of-the-art prosthetic limb with his insurance money.

He remains self-conscious about his injury, saying: "I wouldn't wear shorts in the UK." He still doesn't like having to exercise in a civilian environment, where he can't hide his amputation. "I wouldn't go to the gym. I feel uncomfortable about it."

He left the Army in 2005, and started a company, Action Amps, that uses amputees in role play to train medics, soldiers and emergency services in how to respond to serious accidents. In January, he won the Radar Disabled Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Mr Thomson, who received compensation from the Ministry of Defence, feels no sense of bitterness. He said: "If it's going to happen to you, it's going to happen."


Australia: Single-sex hospital wards return in NSW

HOSPITALS are to be radically reformed in New South Wales, with single gender wards returning, under major changes to be announced by the State Government. The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Government will restructure hospitals - with some services possibly shutting - when it officially responds next Monday to the Garling inquiry, held last year into NSW hospitals. Mixed-gender wards will be wiped out where possible, with men and women returning to single-sex rooms or separate ward bays.

It follows Commissioner Peter Garling SC's disgust at men and women sharing wards when he handed down his 1100-page report last November. The move back to gender wards will cost $12 million over four years and was approved by Cabinet last night. Health Minister John Della Bosca said public hospitals needed to have greater resources to place men and women in separate rooms.

Under the new plans, elderly patients would be treated in their homes rather than in hospitals in order to alleviate pressure on the system. In his report, Mr Garling said hospitals were not a suitable environment for the elderly. "My recommendations are designed to encourage models which deliver as much care as possible in the home and not in the hospital, which is a very alienating place for older citizens," Mr Garling said. Other reforms include:

* THE sacking of doctors who repeatedly fail to wash their hands;

* BEDSIDE briefings by doctors and formal shift handovers;

* BETTER supervision of junior doctors; and

* EMERGENCY response teams within hospitals.

The Garling inquiry began a year ago and was aimed at restoring the ailing health system. The landmark 10-month investigation followed a string of mishaps and the death of teenager Vanessa Anderson. The 15-year-old died at Royal North Shore Hospital in November 2005 after being given the wrong medication for a brain injury after she was struck in the head by a golf ball.

Mr Garling's controversial report made 139 recommendations, some of them regarded as radical. At least 10 hospital emergency departments were deemed "unsafe" or unnecessary. The Government has been considering whether to endorse Mr Garling's recommendation to close Manly, Ryde, Sydney, Mt Druitt, Auburn, Camden, Bulli and Kurri Kurri's emergency departments.


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