As a doctor, I am ashamed, saddened and embarrassed to have to tell you this but hospital patients are routinely neglected, humiliated and left in pain. Thousands of patients have died as a result of poor treatment. One independent enquiry documented cases where patients had been left unwashed for up to a month and left without food, drink and medical treatment. The conclusion was that managers had been “preoccupied with cost-cutting, targets and processes” and had lost sight of their basic responsibilities. Astonishingly, none of the managers responsible was taken to court. Nor were any of the doctors and nurses punished.
I have little doubt that in all the hospitals where patients have been dying unnecessarily the staff (including doctors and nurses) managed to convince themselves that they were providing patients with excellent service.
And, equally, I have no doubt that an enormous number of patients and relatives and hospital visitors must have ignored all these awful things and believed that the hospitals concerned were doing a wonderful job.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to hear that the managers responsible for all this pain, agony and death, have thick files of letters from patients and relatives thanking them for the excellent care.
The truth is that neither patients nor relatives know precisely what to expect from hospitals.
Walk into a hospital and you will find demented patients in awful pain. You will find patients with terrible bedsores (the bedsore is a classic sign of bad nursing). You will find patients who are starving to death or dying of dehydration because the staff can’t be bothered to feed them or give them fluids. You will see patients so dehydrated that their lips are bleeding and sore and, when gently pinched, their dried-out skin stays where you’ve put it. You will see patients dumped in a chair, sitting in urine-soaked incontinence pads which have clearly not been changed for hours. You will see obvious signs of malnutrition. These aren’t patients in Third World countries. They aren’t patients in badly run care homes. They are patients in major hospitals. I know it is true because I have seen it time and time again.
Patients awaiting surgery are sent home because the hospital has run out of money and can’t afford the sutures and other surgical equipment needed to operate on them. An 83-year-old woman with dementia was sent home from hospital in the middle of the night without her family being informed. The next day she was found dead, alone in her bedroom.
Dirty sheets are reused in hospitals, just as they are in the dirtiest, cheapest, nastiest doss houses. But hospitals aren’t supposed to be doss houses. They are places where the people in the beds are, by definition, all ill. Many of them with infectious diseases. I can understand bureaucrats accepting the re-use of dirty sheets. They are nasty, uncaring people. But doctors and nurses?
Dignity and respect are not words that the modern hospital employee understands. Not, at least, when applied to patients. Many hospitals still have mixed wards – with male and female patients forced to abandon their natural dignity in the interests of hospital economy (so that the administrators can take yet another huge pay rise).