The first thing to remember is that criticism and whistleblowing will not to be tolerated, as British practice reminds us every day.
Latest news in the exciting saga of Britain’s socialized medicine is that a nurse, Margaret Haywood, aged 58, has been struck off for the crime of exposing neglect and mistreatment of elderly patients at the Royal Sussex Hospital on a television program. It was found that because of this: “It would not be in the public interest for her to be able to practise as a nurse.”
Linda Read, chair of the panel responsible, said: “Although the conditions on the ward were dreadful, it was not necessary to breach confidentiality to seek to improve them by the method chosen.”
After a decade of New Labour, much of Britain’s hospital system is coming to defy description. Not even Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn’s harrowing description of hospital treatment in Stalinist Russia, had quite such refinements of socialized medicine. And woe betide would-be whistle-blowers!
In March 2008, Lord Mancroft, a Tory peer who has held responsible positions in the public health area, claimed it was a miracle he was still alive after a stay in a filthy British public hospital with uncollected infected waste in the wards and dirty, drunken and sluttish nurses.
Instead of investigating Lord Mancroft’s allegations, the leaders of both major parties turned on him. Tory leader David Cameron said he was “very cross” that Lord Mancroft had spoken like this. He had, he said, “told him in no uncertain terms” that his views did not represent the Tory Party, and that he “should think more carefully before opening his mouth.”
The Labour government was of course more than happy to attack Lord Mancroft also. Health minister Ann Keen said: “I am appalled at his comments and I’m sure the rest of the British public is too. The entire country holds nurses in the highest regard. People will want to know what action David Cameron is taking on this matter or if David Cameron shares his views.”
The hospital’s chief executive, James Scott, said: “I believe it is wrong to make allegations like this without putting any evidence before us or giving us the opportunity to respond.”
He continued with righteous indignation that “I hope Lord Mancroft will now reflect on the damage he has done to the general reputation and moral standing of the nursing profession and the impact this has had on the 1,600 nursing staff at the RUH who are extremely distressed and upset at his comments.”
Dr. Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, accused him of making “sweeping generalisations about nurses and sexist insults about the behaviour of British women.”
It had already been established that filthy conditions in British hospitals have been the cause of many deaths. The Daily Telegraph wrote in 2007 that in the hospitals run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells National Health Service Trust staff told patients suffering from diarrhea to “go in their beds.” Between 2004 and 2006, 90 patients there died from Clostridium difficile, and the disease was a factor in the death of a further 241: “Were it not for bad nursing, bad medical attention and bad administration, none of these patients need have died. Indeed, they would not have contracted C. diff. at all unless they had gone into hospital. So, after 150 years’ advance of education, technology, prosperity and science, we have lost what Florence Nightingale taught [about cleanliness].”
Recently, at Eastbourne General hospital in East Sussex, another 13 patients died after an outbreak of Clostridium diff. Several wards have now been closed for cleaning. Others have died in the East Sussex Hospital. “Hospital care for the elderly has been given a very low priority,” says Sarah Harman, a solicitor representing families of several victims.
A senior Conservative MP, Nigel Evans, demanded an inquiry into “shocking” failures of care after his elderly mother died of C. diff. He demanded to know why she had not been tested sooner and he criticized doctors for the off-hand way in which they told the family she had died.
“First of all this infection can and should be prevented, and secondly it can be treated if it’s diagnosed in time,” he said. “Neither of these things happened. There are thousands of families up and down the country grieving for the same reason.”
Mr. Evans’s sister said: “We were told to leave the room and a doctor came and asked us whether we’d discussed resuscitation. When we looked shocked, he said: ‘I can tell you weren’t expecting this.’ It was only then that we realized she was dying.” She said she had found patches of grime in the corners of bathrooms at the hospital as well as under beds. “The whole thing was like a horror film.”
Deaths involving C. diff. in England and Wales doubled from 3,757 in 2005 to 8,324 in 2007, the vast majority of them elderly people, before a decline last year. It appears that while restaurants are prosecuted for unsanitary conditions, hospitals are not.
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