Ann Clwyd has said her biggest regret is that she didn’t “stand in the hospital corridor and scream” in protest at the “almost callous lack of care” with which nurses treated her husband as he lay dying in the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
Clwyd, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley since 1984 and Tony Blair’s former human rights envoy to Iraq, told the Guardian she fears a “normalisation of cruelty” is now rife among NHS nurses. She said she had chosen to speak out because this had become “commonplace”.
Describing how her 6’2” husband lay crushed “like a battery hen” against the bars of his hospital bed with an oxygen mask so small it cut into his face and pumped cold air into his infected eye, Clwyd said nurses treated the dying man with “coldness, resentment, indifference and even contempt”.
Owen Roberts died on Tuesday, 23rd October from hospital-acquired pneumonia.
For what it’s worth, my own experiences of watching people die in NHS hospitals have been around as good as it is reasonable to expect such a thing to be. However this is not the first such blast of raw emotion directed against the NHS from a bereaved relative that I have read, merely the first from a Labour MP.
To take another example, Anthony Browne, former health editor of the Observer, and former passionate believer in the NHS, wrote:
Last week’s report into the case of Thomas Rogers, the 74-year-old grandfather who bled to death after lying undiagnosed on a trolley in an accident and emergency ward at Whipps Cross Hospital for nine hours, is shocking. What is even more shocking is that it is hardly unusual. Equally awful stories worm their way out past NHS obstruction every week. And nothing changes.
He was right about nothing changing; the “last week” mentioned in the article was in 2001. I have reposted that article several times over the years. It does not stop being relevant, alas. Again, for what it’s worth, my own experience of Whipps Cross Hospital was quite a lot better than that – I take a forgiving attitude towards the fact that the midwife had to run out into the corridor and yell, “Where’s the fucking obstetrician?”, given that they were trying to deal with multiple women in labour. Things tend to get fraught anywhere when there is a crisis. However the deaths of Mr Roberts and Kane Gorny, who died of thirst due to neglect, or the baby Edward Brown, who was born and died in a hospital toilet while nurses declined to assist because they did not have the training, did not happen as a result of any overwhelming crisis. Whether the problem is that efforts to make nursing more academically prestigious have made some nurses believe it is beneath them to supply the most basic needs of patients, or increased paperwork, or some other factor, NHS nursing care seems to fail more often than it used to. It cannot be because of “cuts”. The last financial year for which there was a reduction in the percentage of central government expenditure devoted to the NHS was 1996/97. And that was one of only seven decreases in all the years since 1950/51. No government has dared blaspheme against the state religion.