Hospital trust apologises to families for 'appalling' failings of care

Alexandra Hospital in Redditch Credit: ITV Central News

A hospital trust will apologise to the families of 38 people who suffered what human rights lawyers have called "appalling" failures of care, following successful legal action.

In one of the worst cases of mistreatment, an 84-year-old man starved to death at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire in June 2009.

Some patients treated by the Worcestershire Acute NHS Hospital Trust were left thirsty with drinks left out of reach while others were left to sit in their own excrement.

In another instance an elderly woman went unwashed for 11 weeks and later died, and a man who was unable to feed himself, and whose nurses would simply take his uneaten food away, according to his daughter.

There were further claims from the families of a man whose ribs were broken while hospital staff attempted to lift him, and a great-grandmother whose hip fracture went undetected by doctors.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "disgusted and appalled" to read the families' and patients' accounts saying the Department for Health would be "keeping a careful eye" on the situation.

Lawyers for the families started a class action against the trust 15 months ago, after failings in basic day-to-day care were highlighted in a report by health watchdog the Care and Quality Commission (CQC).

Health bosses at the trust agreed in November to write to each of the families apologising for lapses in care, but have not admitted legal liability.

Many of the families will also receive a financial payment of on average about £10,000 - totalling £410,000 altogether.

Emma Jones, a human rights lawyer with Leigh Day & Co which brought the legal action, said: "The failings we uncovered were appalling.

"Vulnerable and elderly patients were left starving and thirsty, with drinks left out of reach, buzzers ignored and people not being taken to the toilet and instead left to sit in their own faeces by the very people meant to be caring for them.

"There have been financial settlements, but what the families have always wanted all along is an apology, some have been waiting years.

"The trust has agreed to send out those letters of apology and they are expected to be sent out in January."

Ms Jones said the trust "had engaged" with lawyers throughout the process, and the settlements reflected a willingness to "draw a line" under the matter.

In a statement, the trust accepted "care fell below the requisite standard" but added "significant" improvements had since been made to levels of patient care.

The incidents all took place between 2002 and 2011, with 35 cases brought against the Alexandra Hospital and three against the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, Worcester.

In March 2011, inspectors from the CQC arrived unannounced at the Alexandra Hospital, and concluded that the trust was breaking the law in failing to meet "essential standards", and needed to improve care.

Ms Jones said: "Clients came forward following a report by the watchdog the Care and Quality Commission which raised all sorts of issues about dignity, nutrition and respect for patients.

"I am hopeful that the trust have learned their lessons.

"When we met with them (the trust) in November they assured us changes had been made and I am hopeful they will have been made."

Mr Hunt said "I am disgusted and appalled to read these accounts of what patients and their relatives went through.

"These are examples of the sort of 'care' that should simply not happen in the NHS and there is no excuse for them.

"We will be keeping a careful eye on this situation, and will take further action if necessary.

"I know that most NHS staff including many at the Alexandra Hospital will be shocked to hear these stories.

"I want to support them in making sure that these awful experiences are not repeated.

"In future, we will be implementing a systematic way of measuring patients' experiences, both good and bad, so that the public can see how individual hospitals are doing at providing the highest possible standards of care."

Worcestershire Acute Hospital Trust said in a statement: "While the trust has accepted that certain aspects of the care afforded to some patients fell below the standard that they were entitled to expect, all of the cases cited are several years old, in many incidences, more than a decade old.

"This trust now has the sixth best standard hospital mortality index (SHMI) in the Midlands and East Strategic Health area based on 2012/13 figures which put the figure at 97 - which is below the national average.

"A number of very serious allegations made by the families of deceased patients are not borne out by the medical records.

"Nevertheless, the trust accepts that, the care afforded to some patients, some years ago - between 2002 and 2009 - fell below the requisite standard and has apologised for the shortcomings.

"Following a CQC inspection in early 2011, and as a consequence of rigorous clinical governance within the trust, significant changes have been made to ensure patient care is excellent which is resulting in the trust currently producing a SHMI below the national average.

"Moreover, the CQC inspection in September 2011 confirmed the trust met every CQC standard and the focus now is to ensure that those high standards are maintained and built upon.

"The trust is committed to delivering the very best care to its patients and will continue to strive for excellence."