Families and widows of patients who were allegedly subjected to “appalling and humiliating” care are launching legal action against a West Midlands hospital trust.
A group action is to be launched by at least 10 families and widows of mainly elderly patients treated at Redditch’s Alexandra Hospital claiming human rights were contravened.
Human rights lawyer Emma Jones, of law firm Leigh Day & Co, said the move was prompted by serious complaints against bosses of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, drawing comparisons to the experiences of patients at shamed Stafford Hospital.
Stories have emerged of medical staff allegedly putting “do not resuscitate” into records without relatives’ consent.
Miss Jones, who is the former head of legal for national mental health charity Mind, said the claims were not limited to the elderly but to other patients, especially the most vulnerable.
“A common theme with these cases is patients left dehydrated, food left out of their reach, not enough staff and the ones present not seeming to care,” said Miss Jones. “Information given to staff from relatives seemed to go into a black hole.
“We will argue under the Human Rights Act that the standard of care breached the families’ human rights and the level of distress and anxiety is compensatable. I believe these cases are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more out there.”
The legal action comes as Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which also runs Kidderminster and Worcester hospitals, was recently highlighted for having higher-than-expected death rates.
The trust was also one of two in the country named and shamed for having “major concerns” over nutrition and dignity of care for the elderly in a report by national health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) this year.
Widow Patricia Hodges decided to take legal action after watching the deterioration and death in January of her 73-year-old husband Laurence, who suffered a stroke.
The former Cadbury worker was admitted to the the Alexandra Hospital with a stroke four months after undergoing a heart bypass operation.
Despite knowledge of this, his widow said medical staff proceeded to use a hoist to lift Mr Hodges, which she claimed caused his ribs to “break open”.
Mrs Hodges, who lived most of her life in Wythall and has now moved to Evesham, said her husband was “doped on morphine”, and left dehydrated, with water and food placed out of his reach.
After 15 days at the Alexandra Hospital and Mrs Hodges repeatedly begging for her husband to be transferred to Bristol, Mr Hodges was moved, but he died the next day on January 26.
Mrs Hodges, 71, said: “Laurence was pushed up in the corner of the stroke ward and left with hardly any food or drink.
“He was desperate for water and would stick his tongue out. I’d say ‘Are you thirsty?’ and he’d go ‘yes, yes, yes’. When I asked a nurse why he didn’t have a drink, she said ‘He can’t drink, it will choke him’.
“I found a swab and dipped it in the water, dribbling it into his mouth, he was desperate for every drop.
“I wake up in the night now remembering him saying ‘yes, yes, yes’ and it makes me cry. He had no dignity at all. ‘Do not resuscitate’ was put in his notes but they never asked my permission, they took it out of my hands,” she tearfully added.
“We worked hard all of our lives and deserve the best care whatever age we are. The attitude seemed to be that my husband was old and had had his time. It it unbelievable how anyone there could walk past someone looking like my husband did and not give him even a drink. It was appalling.”
The widow, who was married to Laurence for 18 years, has since received a letter from the Alexandra Hospital’s head nurse, Jane Smith, apologising.
“We did not provide the standard of care your husband required,” the letter stated.
Helen Blanchard, Director of Nursing and Midwifery at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The matter has been referred to our solicitors.
"We are therefore unable to comment further on individual cases. Staff across the Trust have worked incredibly hard over the last few months to ensure that issues raised by the CQC were rectified and a number of improvement measures have been put in place.
"Whilst we have been fully compliant with CQC standards relating to dignity and nutrition since June, I would like to reassure patients that we continue to prioritise this area of work.”
Dr Charles Ashton, the Trust’s Medical Director added that the new SHMI mortality figures highlighted potential areas for improvement.
“We are establishing a system for every death to be systematically reviewed by senior doctors and to ensure that they are recorded accurately in our records,” said Mr Ashton.
Father-of-four Chris Grande, from Matchborough, Redditch, was just 35 years old when he died after five days in the Alexandra Hospital.
Suffering with spinal muscular atrophy, Chris, who had a degree in counselling psychology, was admitted with breathing problems and aspirating fluid onto his lungs on December 26 last year but died four days later.
His widow Sonya claims her husband was left screaming in pain, sitting in his own faeces, terrified of the nurses, dehydrated and starved.
She said he was given no food during his time in hospital as there were no feeding tubes available and no-one able to fit one.
The 42-year-old former personal assistant added that nurses were uninterested in her husband’s condition even when he was crying out for help the day before he died in ward 2 on December 30.
A “do not resuscitate” decision was made by the medical team against Mrs Grande’s wishes, and she said his consultant at another hospital later claimed he knew nothing about it.
“There was no dignity at all in Chris’s death. I feel like he was tortured in his final days” said Mrs Grande, who married Chris in 2006.
“He was humiliated and scared and I saw it happening to the other patients too.
“The day before he died, the nutritionist visited and said it was unacceptable he hadn’t been fed. His condition meant that lack of food would weaken his muscles. The poor man was starving to death.
“They think they can pick and choose when someone’s time is up. They felt he had no quality of life and it wasn’t worth saving, but he was happy with his life.
“I never got the chance to say goodbye and ‘I love you’ as the doctor took me aside when they gave him morphine and he never came round again. I still hear his screams, it haunts me. When Chris died, part of me died with him.
Mrs Grande added: “I’m scared of that hospital. It is a disaster.”
* Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust received 52 complaints to the Health Service Ombudsman in the past financial year.
There were 1,381 complaints about the NHS in the West Midlands from April last year to March this year, mainly for hospitals, GPs, primary care trusts and mental health.
* A damning Care Quality Commission report in October found that frail elderly patients were not given a drink for more than ten hours on a ward at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals trust.
Doctors were so concerned that some patients were becoming dangerously dehydrated that they put them on drips.
The report on 100 hospitals in England found 49 were not meeting basic nutrition standards while other concerns included hospitals slipping Do Not Resuscitate orders inside patients’ notes without telling them or their families.
* New Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicater(SHMI) from the Department of Health revealed last week that Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust had higher than expected mortality figures.
Despite 2,442 deaths expected, there were actually 2,681 between April last year and March this year.
The new way of measuring death rates not only monitors all deaths in hospital but also those occurring within 30 days of being discharged, to give a wider picture and give an early warning on potential problems.