Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Epistle from Planet NHS

I wrote this letter 7/9/2010

Dear Claire Perry,

I am currently attending Hammersmith Hospital for chemotherapy. I am receiving good treatment, all is going well for me, but I must make a complaint about the treatment I received in the Victor Bonney ward, Queen Charlotte’s hospital after I was admitted there on May 4th this year for a hysterectomy.

While I was in there, there was no cold water on the ward. We were not assisted to wash in bed and I tried to take a shower. The water in the shower on the ward was scalding hot and I was left completely alone in the shower room, although I had just had an op and still had a morphine bag.

When I asked for help I was taken to a bathroom near the reception desk, where there was apparently cold water, again I was left completely alone, and I could not turn the cold tap on although I struggled to do so.

The nurses were curt and unwilling to help us. I asked for a drink of water but a nurse couldn’t give it to me although she was standing next to a sink. I lost a new nightdress which was taken away with the sheets and disposed of. The nurses I told about this laughed and found it very amusing. I spent some of my time in tears.

We were then told to leave the ward after only three days, regardless of how well or ill we were. The doctor who dismissed us did not examine anyone.

I realise this might be a separate issue as hospitals were required to meet targets on operations performed, without having enough beds. But the manner that we were pushed out was very unfriendly and distressing.

I knew I should make a complaint about the nursing on Victor Bonney but I was inspired to get on with it when my neighbour told me she had been in the VB ward too, and had received bad treatment. She told me the nurses were “rude and unhelpful.”

My counsellor, Philip Alexander, who works with cancer patients for the NHS at Charing Cross and Hammersmith also told me he had received several bad reports from his clients about Victor Bonney.

Yours truly,

13th October 2010 I received a letter from Imperial College Healthcare, Planet NHS, from a Keith Ingram, "Acting Associate Director," who deals with “Service Quality.” Sounds a bit like something from the railways but in this case you don’t get any complimentary vouchers.

He lists four people who’ve apparently investigated my complaints and states that “after checking the ward report book,” there were “no reported problems with the water supply during the period of your stay I am sorry that we are unable to provide you with any additional information.”

I go around making up complaints about water supplies for the good of my health do I? What is interesting is that my chief complaint, more important than any lack of cold water, was that twice I was left alone, attached to morphine bag, with scalding hot water. No help to wash, no supervision while I was feeble and light- headed. This was surely a lack of basic nursing care – but that is not mentioned early in the letter. Perhaps nurses no longer help people to wash, or stick around to see they don’t get turned into boiled lobsters?

Instead as a kind of defence, the letter brings up my cancer support nurse and says that I didn’t tell her there was any problem about going home after the op and being on my own. So we have moved on quickly to an issue which lies outside the Victor Bonney ward. A full page is then given over to this. Apparently we patients were “mobilised,” to avoid blood clots.

I pointed out that we were not examined before we were booted out. He says that Dr Yazan Abdullah, Senior House Doctor, “felt we were feeling well enough to go home.”

Yes but he didn’t feel us! Never put a finger on human flesh that morning if our round was anything to go by. Then there is a mention quite far down the page about my complaint that the nurses didn’t help me to wash – Keith Ingram has never been taught to write in clear paragraphs, his points are all mixed up. He says that a “Lead nurse” has discussed my concerns with her nursing team, “so they can think about events as part of their reflective learning.”

I can just imagine them sitting round on the nursing station, dunking biscuits and quietly reflecting on pesky patients unable to turn on cold taps and demanding assistance. When I dipped my toe into the cold waters of Further Education we had to keep a “reflective learning diary.” It was important to write one’s mistakes down, show how one would act if the situation recurred and this act of penance could get you a lot of marks at the end of term. The more “reflection” that had gone on the more you were, theoretically, a good teacher. "If a student spits in my eye I will never throw them through a window again, instead I will walk away," you write, and no one knows what will happen if that situation occurs again, least of all you.

Mr Ingram goes back to my cancer support nurse, who apparently doesn’t support anything I have said in my letter, because I didn’t mention it to her. I had no idea that I was obliged to discuss nursing care with her – we’d only recently met. I hadn’t even had my final diagnosis as a cancer patient. She was offered as someone to consult in the future. The letter says she would have “approached whichever nurse was in charge of the ward,” really? She is usually terribly busy and no one ever appeared to be in charge of the ward. There was a woman in blue uniform who would come in and glare at me in the early morning, but I don’t know who she was, could have been a passing member of the WRVS driven mad by the axing of trolleys. We never knew her identity and she was so scary it was better not to ask.

The upshot is – nothing to do with my unsubstantiated, mischievous complaints, but “a series of interactive workshops” were held, from May to April, called “The Caring Dimension,” to give nurses and their interpreters, “an insight into the Trust’s new values and behaviours.” Note that word “behaviours,” good old “behaviour” is no longer enough, it has somehow acquired a pompous sounding plural.

The trust’s “new values” involve nurses in “Caring.” Sadly they were only just getting the hang of this new notion when I was there. They obviously weren’t practising this new skill on patients and we missed out on it.

Q: Wouldn’t it be more economical in terms of money and time, if nurses and midwives were given a good basic training in the first place? Nursing used to be a “caring profession,” so why is this aspect only taught after they are qualified and there are complaints? Could they not even assess whether people are “caring” before they accept them for the training? There could even be a questionnaire along the lines of: Do you kick the cat? Do you deal in crack cocaine? Do you actually like people?

Due to a brand new checking system, in July the Victor Bonney ward received 93/100 as a rating for staff courtesy, with overall care rated at 88. It has shown “further improvements,” if that is possible this September. A bit like the A level grades – a hundred percent pass rate is in view!

So much for me, my neighbour and all that hospital counsellor’s clients who also left Victor Bonney recently, disappointed, appalled and upset.


  1. It is called victim blaming in my area of work, when unable to deny they become defensive and blame the patient. If they learned to apologise, reflect and learn it would help - I do suspect the lack of culpability is a result of the culture of sue and be compensated. But it so infuriates me, I really do feel for you!

  2. What I hate is the language they use - usually pompous it shows have limited they are, suggests to me that they employ administrators who aren't too bright, people likely to go along with a lot of corporate mumbo jumbo because they have no common sense.

  3. sorry I meant to say "how" limited - can't seem to edit comments