It is now more than four years since I lost my mother at Mid Staffs Foundation Trust hospital and launched the campaign group Cure the NHS. In that time we have heard of a number of cases where vulnerable patients have been discharged from the hospital during the night, sometimes in freezing conditions, without suitable clothing.
The most recent case at Mid Staffs involved a 91-year-old woman who was discharged at midnight wearing only a nightgown. This was in the middle of winter and, to make matters worse, she was sent to the wrong address.
Her family tried to find out how this could have happened via the NHS complaints procedure. They received an apology and an assurance that it would never happen again.
That is what most people want when they make a complaint – a promise that no one else will suffer in the same way. But we now know that discharges of the vulnerable at night have continued across the country, despite hospitals supposedly being under the regulatory spotlight of the Care Quality Commission and Monitor.
We hear excuse after excuse in the NHS, with blame always heaped on someone else and no one taking responsibility. We are told that the decision to discharge a patient has to be made by a doctor. But once the decision has been taken, it triggers a series of problems: a wait for transport; often a delay in dispensing medication and so on. In the end it’s always the system that is to blame. I hear that all the time and it helps to ensure that nothing changes.
The elderly are the last to complain. When there is pressure on beds they are an easy target – bed blockers who are a drain on limited resources.
The General Medical Council’s good medical practice guide states that patients should be a doctor’s first concern, as does the nurses’ code of conduct. Both state that they should treat patients as individuals, respecting their dignity at all times.
Cure the NHS believes that the service has lost sight of its central purpose: caring for the patient. We know that nurses and doctors don’t go into the profession to cause harm, but more than ever we need them to stand up for their patients, to champion their cause and challenge NHS managers.
I despair at how someone in a caring profession can decide to discharge a vulnerable patient at night, knowing that they may be at risk. Where has compassion gone in the NHS? What profession allows our most vulnerable people to be treated in this way?
If a society is really judged on how it treats the most vulnerable, then those responsible for letting this happen should hang their heads in shame.