Belfast Telegraph

Minister Edwin Poots meets pensioner Mary Anne Hood as trust answers criticism

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

Health Minister Edwin Poots visited 98-year-old Mary Anne Hood this week after concerns were raised by her family about conditions at the Ulster Hospital.

It is understood the minister spoke to both the frail pensioner and her daughter Rosemary Craig yesterday afternoon.

Mrs Hood's case was raised by her concerned daughter after she had been admitted on March 1.

Mrs Craig praised the staff as "excellent" but was concerned that the staffing levels were placing the running of the hospital under immense pressure.

The trust had described the Belfast Telegraph reports as "one-sided" and "inaccurate", and that he had left staff feeling "horror".

Meanwhile, yesterday the trust issued a response to initial questions asked earlier this week by the Belfast Telegraph about Mrs Craig's claims.

She claimed she witnessed:

  • Soiled clothes left in bins and on floors overnight and family members having to remove them.
  • The public sharing a lift with a staff member pushing a corpse on a trolley.
  • Exhausted staff working hours after their shifts finish.
  • Patients not getting medication or being taken to the toilet as staff were too busy.
  • A man who had died in a hospital bed but who wasn't removed for hours.

As regards soiled clothes, the trust said it was "clear hospital policy" that personal clothes were the responsibility of patients and their families.

The statement said: "We have a robust system of testing the cleanliness of every clinical area and the results consistently exceed the regional targets.

"However, things can go wrong and if this turns out to be the case, we will sincerely apologise and ensure it does not happen again."

The trust said if there was a lapse, it was "not the norm, and the 'Third World' reference is unjustified and unfair".

Addressing the claim of the public sharing a lift with a staff member pushing a corpse on a trolley, it said: "Trolleys do not fit into the passenger lifts so the complainant must have been using a 'staff only' lift, and, as at least one public lift at each side was operational at all times, there was no reason to use the staff lift."

The statement added: "Staff have told us that the ward was busy and there were three seriously ill patients, but they believe patients were looked after appropriately and that if any issue was drawn to their attention, it was rectified immediately."

The trust said it has policy that patients who died were removed from the ward only by funeral directors, to preserve their dignity.

Response from the trust

The hard-hitting words of academic Rosemary Craig have painted a grim picture of her 98-year-old mother's experience in the Ulster Hospital. On Thursday, the law lecturer told the Belfast Telegraph how she saw staff struggling against the odds to operate within a "Third World" system she felt was under immense pressure.

Mrs Craig's specific claims raised major questions about the quality of care at the hospital. So it is important that both sides of the story are told.

Comments from the South Eastern Health Trust were included in the initial report. But we also wanted to provide the trust with ample time to answer specific claims. We asked the trust to respond to individual claims made by Mrs Craig after she said she witnessed:

  • Soiled clothes left in bins and on floors overnight and family members having to remove them.
  • The public sharing a lift with a staff member pushing a corpse on a trolley.
  • Exhausted staff working hours after their shifts finish.
  • Patients not getting medication or being taken to the toilet as staff were too busy.
  •  A man who'd died in a hospital bed not removed for hours.

The trust responded with a statement saying that the article had caused the staff horror. The first paragraph read: "This is my place of work and I feel so loyal to this trust. Everyone knew I was referred to in this story. I didn't want anyone to read this and think I don't do my job properly. I have to hold my head high. We are all passionate about nursing and we were gutted to read this as it in no way reflected the care we gave."

The quote from an unnamed nurse was surprising, but it did not deal with the specific allegations made by Mrs Craig.

The statement explained the quote was from a nurse in Ward 15, who made contact with the chief executive's office to express "their horror at this inaccurate and unjust article which made headline news".

It also said the trust was "hugely disappointed" that the Belfast Telegraph chose to go with a "one-sided account before allowing us time to meet with the complainant".

"Our doctors and nurses feel upset they have not had a chance to respond to the allegations, many of which they would take issue with. Ultimately, they believe this article was unfair and unjust. We are only now having the opportunity to talk to the complainant."

Then the statement answers one of the initial questions: "We do not remove corpses in the public lifts – ever."

It did confirm it will review the care given to Mrs Hood. "If there are any concerns, these matters will be dealt with and we will acknowledge any deficiencies in our care.

"The trust is interested in understanding the true situation and, after we have heard from all parties, talk further to the family and learn any lessons. In the meantime, we would like to invite the Belfast Telegraph to visit Ward 15 and find out what it is like to work there, to hear of staff experiences over the past few days, of their pride in their job, their compassion for patients and their horror at the way they have been misrepresented."

Mrs Craig said that her issue was with the systems and structures of the trust.

"It was never about the staff, they were always trying to do their best," she said. "The problem was, there was just not enough."

And there is little doubt that staff at the Ulster Hospital are facing intense strains.

The South Eastern Trust had to put in "escalation measures" after the number of patients who attended the Ulster's A&E department peaked on March 4, with 306 patients at its A&E against a daily average of 226.

On the same day we published Ms Craig's account, the Belfast Telegraph reported a quote from Janice Smyth, of the Royal College of Nursing.

She said: "Feedback from RCN members within the South Eastern Trust confirms the pressures they are working under as they bear the brunt of a system that is not working."

Further reading

I was told mum's X-ray was clear... four days later I was told she had a broken back 

Health Minister Edwin Poots urged to review care of elderly in hospital

Health trust must discover facts after pensioner prayed for death amid horror of 'Third World' ward at Ulster 

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