Occasionally something really important is published. Something that makes you think. Something so powerful you wish the board of every health organisation would place it on the agenda for their next meeting, and every chief executive would say to the executive team: “Today we are not going to strive for world class commissioning competencies or prepare for foundation trust status.
Today we are going to read the Patients Association report Patients not Numbers - 16 first hand accounts of patient care in hospital. We are going to ask if this could happen here”.
How often should a patient be told that “because of being unable to use the toilet… she should wet the bed”?
The report is one of the most powerful and distressing documents I have read in 40 years of working in and with the NHS. It is even more powerful because the accounts are first hand, written by eight daughters, three sons, three wives and one husband, and one patient. These are not just statistics - these are people writing about some of the people closest to them.
Some of the responses to the report have been profoundly disappointing.
“Well, it’s not that bad because 98 per cent of patients are pleased with their care. This represents only 2 per cent of the patients treated in hospital.”
Well that is all right then. Let’s get back to our comfort zone and prepare the performance report for the board demonstrating that all targets have been met.
Exactly how many times is it acceptable for a patient to be “left in their own faeces and urine” until relatives ask for them to be changed? How often should a patient be told that “because of being unable to use the toilet… she should wet the bed”? Is that OK as long as it is only 10 times a month or 20? How many times is it satisfactory for night staff to squeal and giggle while confused patients wander around semi naked and staff pass them in the corridor without a care?
It is no defence to claim these are rare events or that most patients are happy. These things should never happen. Any health service can be forgiven for wrong diagnosis in complex cases or the inability to treat because of a genuine shortage of resources. No health service should be forgiven for wilful neglect of the most basic aspects of cleanliness and dignity.
There is something wrong with where we are. We need to go back to basics and examine our hearts and our minds. We need to look at values and priorities. We need to be less proud of things that do not matter and ashamed of our record on the things that matter deeply to patients and relatives.
I hope the Prime Minister’s Commission on Nursing will study the report with care.
Something is wrong and we need to fix it. One day we will be that father or mother or partner in the soiled bed caused unnecessary distress in addition to the effects of ageing and illness. We will be the son or daughter watching the people we love being treated without compassion or care.
Is that what we want?