Were you listening to the news on BBC Radio 4 this morning? If so, you may have heard the about the vulnerable people who were discharged from hospital last year with no-one to care for them. To an empty house, in fact. One lady had been left in her home with no food, drink or bedding, unable to care for herself or get to the toilet.
Another was the 80-year-old woman, repeatedly sent home in a confused state to an empty house, only to be readmitted to hospital when neighbours raised the alarm. Her daughter said that even the ambulance men thought it appalling.
One patient, a woman in her late 90s, died in her granddaughter’s arms shortly after being sent home from hospital in an ambulance, without a proper examination.[i]
Why are failings like this reported as a system failure, with no responsibility attached to the person who organised the discharge? Who was the nurse, or doctor, who looked at the 90 year old and thought she wasn’t worth taking the trouble over? Or decided that the 80 year old with advanced Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and a failing heart could be sent home to an empty house. Are they even told, at some point, that they have made a wrong, inhumane decision?
Presenting it as a failure of the system removes responsibility from the person who decided to do it. And it’s nothing new. It’s frighteningly similar to an incident in 2007, when an 82 year old, who’d been admitted to a hospital in the midlands with heart irregularities (and dementia) was discharged in the early hours of the morning, taken by ambulance and dropped off into her empty flat. Her son’s details were given in her records but he wasn’t notified. When he discovered the next day that she wasn’t in the hospital he went around to her home and found she had died. She still had ECG leads attached to her chest and had collapsed, clutching her Bible. I was writing Could it Be Dementia at the time and couldn’t believe the story was true. I called the press office of the hospital concerned, and asked, off the record, what sort of person decides to send a frail old lady home alone at that time of night? She sounded very sad, and said she’d asked herself the same question.
The NHS says the findings will be taken seriously and improvement is under way. That’s what they said eight years ago. ‘Lessons will be learned,’ is the mantra slapped like a sticking plaster over incidents of incredible indifference and even cruelty to the elderly in our hospitals. And the individuals who make these appalling decisions will continue to be hidden by the ‘system’.
Before you tell me that not all hospital staff are like this let me add that one of my friends is a hospital Chaplain, and I know, I know. But why are those who are allowed to get away with it?