From Ward to Whitehall – Review

“From Ward to Whitehall”


Julie Bailey’s book ‘From Ward toWhitehall’ is going to cause a sensation.  In a week when the use by hospitals of theLiverpoolCare Pathway (the so-called ‘end of life treatment’) is being passionately aired in newspapers and radio, the publication of this book could not be more apt.  Many who read Julie’s account of the death of her mother, Bella, in an NHS hospital are sure to say, with a mixture of sadness and regret but also with relief that someone is telling this story, “That is my experience, too.”  It is also the story of Julie’s campaign to reveal what was happening inStaffordHospitaland her fight for a public inquiry.


I read this book with a special personal interest.  I have a mother who worked for many years in just about every London hospital as a medical secretary to senior consultants.  I have a sister who is an ophthalmologist who, with a team of volunteer surgeons, has conducted, for free, tens of thousands of sight restoring operations for the poorest people in rural India through her charity, Second Sight.  I have a husband who became part of the campaign group Cure the NHS which Julie Bailey founded.  I worked for years as a freelance trainer in nine different government departments, including the Department of Health where its formerPermanent Secretary, Sir Hugh Taylor, led one of my programmes.  So I devoured this book, reading it in a day and bringing to it a whole collection of my own preconceptions about the NHS and the Department of Health, including that, at some levels, the world of Health is full of truly impressive intellectual prowess but short of practical, emotional good sense and where many a mortal seems in awe of the NHS CEO, Sir David Nicholson, the same man who, as Professor Sir Brian Jarman points out in the Foreword to this book, chose to dismiss as “simply lobbying” the experiences and issues first raised by Cure the NHS.


It was not until I sat in on my husband’s evidence to the Robert Francis Public Inquiry into Mid Staffs that I began (only began) to appreciate what Julie and her fellowbereaved campaigners had to go through both personally and as a team.  Then I picked up this book and I found myself, in one read, feeling the kind of changing attitudes towards the NHS that these campaigners must have experienced – a deep faith in its care and professionalism tinged first by disbelief and disappointment followed by absolute horror that my pride should be shattered in the wonderful, civilised NHS system of free healthcare for all that we are lucky to have in the UK.


‘From Ward toWhitehall’ is a painful and tragic read, describing what must surely be the most shameful episode in NHS history,  but it is also uplifting and hopeful and enlightening and that’s what makes it a sensation.


My emotional journey as a reader was to try and explain away, as evidence of ward staff under inordinate pressure, the ignored call bells, the leaking catheters, the porter so rushed that he crashes his patient’s trolley into some oxygen bottles, the arrival in the wrong ward, even (Heaven help me!) the patients left distressed and smelly in faeces-soiled clothes, slippers and bed linen and given the wrong medication.  The NHS means so much to me that I was ready to find the excuses.  But what I found myself unable to excuse at any level was the behaviour. Individual behaviour, after all, is our own personal choice.  The images described by Julie Bailey are almost too much to bear – the “get back ter yer fuckin bed” behaviour, the doctor clicking two fingers in Julie’s face to illustrate how her mother “will die just like that,” the irresponsibility of the nurses eBay sessions while on duty, patients left on the floor where they have fallen desperately trying to get to the loo to avoid messing their beds, the old woman, bed ridden for three weeks, being frogmarched to the toilet and back and being left to cry, shaken and cowed, under her covers, the image of dehydrated mouths, bleeding and covered in a white film.


What is the use of all that intellectual excellence in the civil service if it does not result in a true sense of emotional responsibility to people it is supposed to serve?


Written in a conversational style and with the kind of detail of one woman’s personal journey that will resonate with the experience of others, this book is an emotional journey and it also serves to highlight how, even for a woman of grit like Julie Bailey, it is terribly hard to stand up for your rights in a bullying institutional culture, where people don’t even need to be told to conceal, deceive and deny because the institutional inclination is so strong.  And yet, despite this, the reader can admire those who went out of their way to help and to do the right thing, like the junior doctor who warned Julie “You need to get your mum out of hospital before she comes to any harm.”  The reader can feel the optimism Julie and her family felt as the day of discharge approached, and then the despair and horror when her mother was dropped and left without being seen all night while the ward manager insistently stands over the terrifiedBella stating “you slipped didn’t you!”


I find myself thinking “Is this what the 21st Century hospital experience really is?”  And then, I question the extra £46 million (Health Service Journal article, Shaun Lintern October 2012) the NHS has just commissioned to be spent on a new “LeadershipAcademy” and I wonder about the appropriateness of this use of tax payers’ money. Is it desperation stakes?  Is it a cynical gesture? Is it self-serving plunder?  Worst of all, given my attachment to the concept of the NHS, I find myself thinking unthinkable thoughts and wondering whether, with all that intellectual brilliance I experienced in the Department of Health (the strategy arm, after all, of the NHS),  this downward spiral of care quality in the NHS is not deliberately designed to make us so fed up with what the NHS offers that we will all willingly accept its transfer to the private sector on the grounds that “anything is better than this, even a privately run NHS.”  And then I go on to wonder which big shots will most benefit from that.


I said this book is also hopeful and that is the feeling, above all, that I take away from it.  Why?  Because this is also the story of an exceptional, natural campaign leader and an exceptional team who found different roles to suit the different levels of skill and confidence in the Cure the NHS group.  They expertly organised their personal grit, resilience and determination to deal with the infuriatingly sluggish, self-satisfied, devious, dismissive bureaucratic responses they encountered when they first raised their issues.  They found common sense strategies to break through the one thing the Establishment knows how to do very well indeed – close ranks.


It’s a story of undying hope and of determined, organised, sustained application.  It’s a story of a team working at the highest level of performance, not as the result of training but because each and every one of themnever,never took their eye off the prize of truth and justice at the end of the road and, when the going was tough, even abusive and almost unbearable, they always found ways to support those whose suffering became too much.


For other campaigning groups, here is a potential model.


Yes, it’s a story of hope.

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6 Comments on "From Ward to Whitehall – Review"

  • Jill George says

    Please look at the RCNs recommendation of mandatory RN to Patient ratios of 1:7, the present system is a free for all with as few RNs as Trusts can get away with, Rns suffering burnout but being afraid to admit they cant cope and the resulting chaos on the wards.

  • sandra murdock says

    what a brilliant book and a brilliant lady for taking the action she has. Yes the nurses are overworked but as she so rightly says some of them dont know the meaning of th eword care. What those poor people went through in that hospital is beyond words and the 66 bullet points of the problems she saw first hand are so true . How can people be so vile, so uncaring towards vulnerable people. And as for the HAI, is it any wonder, the wards in most hospitals are dirty. No one likes crititism thats why those so called managers, matrons etc, failed to help at the time.

  • john rutherford says

    All these stories bear out what seems to be happening not just in this one hospital but all over the country. My mother had a stroke last January and was taken to Wickham AE… She had an MRI scan where apparently nothing was found so she was treated for possible bladder infection in the Gastro …ward for over a week. In that time she fell out of bed and fractured her left arm below the shoulder but they did not think is was broken. She was due for a cat scan but because the mri scan had shown nothing she was a low priority. Bear in mind all this time she was unconciouse and incohent for just a few moments we got her awake.. She finally had a cat scan where it was discovered she had an extensive bi thalmus stroke. And was put on the stroke ward which incidently the week before had been closed to visitors due to a sickness bug. With mothers arm and shoulder dark black we demanded an xray where it transpired she had a fracture. In that time in hospital I observed her notes and can conclude massive gaps in terms of monitoring, food, liquids, going to loo, temperature and medication, . In fact if you were to see them you would agree the notes were 80% illiterate and inconsistant. My mother was released from hospital after a month with virtually no psio or occupational care appointments (all missed or no resource available) .. The day she was released one of her sons (my eldest brother died of pnuemonia) She was released early on what i would describe as a get them out of hospital quick scheames and let some nurses look after her at home. Well the occupational nurse outside hospital was very good at her notes! So good that after 60 days my mother was off NHS hands due to notes which can only be described as pure fiction..My mother was left hardly able to walk.. could not dress herself or boil a kettle.. could not make it to the loo..was still incoherent from the rare and extensive stroke she had. And very depressed and confused about the death of her son. What is scary is that i witnessed she was not the only one suffering from lack of nursing care and medical treatment.
    I could go on ..but all i can say is that when I saw the opening ceremony of the olympics celebrating the NHS I was choking with the hipocracy and the delusion that was being peddled to the world..In my opinion this campaign is good .. But unfortunatley the NHS is rotten..Rotten to its very core… The NHS doesnt need to change ..It needs to be destroyed and something new in its place. Just like 1948 replaced the system before it. I could go on as there is more in terms of my mother and also the fact of my brothers death where his body was lost for 4 days yes a ahell of a year 2012. My mother was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in October but as she says .. she not really bothered what they do..Quote .. “I have had enough anyway,,so so what”..

  • sue mitchell says

    I have just finished reading Julie Bailey’s book.It should be essential reading for anyone who works within the NHS. It highlights the poor quality of care that many elderly patients have been subjected to in the past and continues to this day. It also highlights the degree to which hospitals are over-managed–so many levels of management–the result being that nobody assumes ultimate responsibility for deficiencies. It is no more apparent than at ‘ward level’. What do ‘Matrons, ‘Ward Managers’ ‘ do that an experienced ward sister was responsible for in the past.? She ran the ward with a rod of iron–she was respected if not liked. But patients felt safe. Also the removal of state enrolled nurses/nursing auxillaries was a fundamental error. THe HCA’s are poorly trained both in a technical and caring way. Well done Julie. You are achieving more than any SOS has done in the past 20 years. The setting up of the MSPI was due entirely to your persistance and it is likely to have far reaching effects on the structure and culture of the NHS for years to come. I salute you, Julie, you deserve a ‘gong’–but perhaps you are not seen as being ‘politically correct’ enough for the present coalition. Congratulations and thanks— which I am sure will be echoed by thousands of people once the full report is issued in a few weeks

    Kindest regards

    Sue Mitchell

  • Paula Martin says

    I am one of those burnt out nurses. I have resigned and have let my registration expire with no plans to renew it.
    I was caring for an elderly patient on a ward, I asked if they had some allevyn heels to help support an elderly gentlemans skin, he had a dressing on, one that was stuck to his skin, and rucked up, 3M dressing I think. Not one that you can easily take off and look under at regulate intervals throughout your shift.
    I asked the sister where the Allevyn heel dressings were, she said they didn’t stock them on the ward because they have been banned, I said why, she said because you can’t see what’s going on under them, I said you can if you look!!
    The remainder of my shift was made hell and I was not asked to go back to that ward again. It was a care of the elderly ward of which I have a lot of experience.
    They are more concerned with ticking boxes to say they have done the care, rather than actually doing the care.
    I have left and will never go back as a nurse, because there is no nursing anymore and it is what I was trained to do. Be my patients advocate not managements puppet.

  • I am a retired RGN. I qualified as a nurse in 1961 at a Nottingham Hospital and worked as a nursing sister on wards and operating theatres in several hospitals , followed by some years as a nurse/manager in local Nursing Homes , until my retirement a few years ago.
    I have also had surgery several times throughout my life, most recently my second total hip replacement approx. seven years ago.
    I am shocked to hear of the neglect in the current NHS.We were taught that “the most important person in a NHS hospital is the patient” We were all aswerable to our Matron. She visited every ward and department every day without fail.(812 PATIENTS/BEDS) She missed nothing.
    Please contact me if I can help in any way.I and have a good memory for detail,and perhaps could be of help.