Belfast Telegraph

Home News Health

Pensioner prayed for death amid horror of 'Third World' ward at Ulster Hospital

By Liam Clarke

Conditions at one of Northern Ireland's main hospitals have been blasted as Third World by the family of an elderly woman admitted as a patient last week.

Senior academic lawyer Rosemary Craig has raised grave concerns about the health service after her mother prayed for death as she endured a trolley wait and later lay close to human waste in the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

Mary Anne Hood (98) was brought to the hospital last Friday morning suffering from pneumonia, kidney problems and severe back pain.

The seriously ill pensioner was left lying on a trolley in accident and emergency from 10.30am until after 6pm when she was finally admitted to Ward 15, a mixed ward which the health trust says is used for "clinical assessment", but is referred to as the "ghost ward" by some staff.

Her shocked daughter said: "I never thought in my lifetime that I would experience the horror and hell of the past four days spent in the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald.

"I have visited Third World countries and I can honestly say that things in the worst wards there are not as bad as parts of the Ulster Hospital as far as dirt and pure worn-out parts of the building are concerned."

Mrs Craig claimed:

  • She witnessed her mother crying with embarrassment when a catheter was fitted and males in the mixed ward could overhear.
  • Soiled clothes were left in bins and on floors overnight and she and other family members had to remove them.
  • The public shared a lift with a staff member pushing a corpse on a trolley.
  • A member of the public retched in the hospital because of the smell of urine and rubbish.
  • Exhausted staff have to work hours after their shifts finish.
  • Patients did not get their medication or get taken to the toilet because staff were too busy.
  • A man died in a hospital bed but his body was not removed for hours.
  • Mrs Craig has now challenged Health Minister Edwin Poots to visit the hospital ward and view the conditions for himself.

"The minister needs to come and sit in his ward with me for 24 hours. My mum said: 'Rosemary, is this what I worked for all those years to come to this?'"

The lecturer painted a nightmarish picture of staff struggling against the odds to operate a system which was bursting at the seams. One old woman cried out repeatedly for God to release her from her pain. Standards of cleanliness were low, in her opinion, and she also showed us several pictures of broken lifts. "At one stage the public and a gentleman pushing a corpse in a trolley used the same lift," Mrs Craig said.

A South Eastern Board spokesperson said that corpses were normally moved by undertakers in service lifts, which the public were not supposed to enter.

Mrs Craig said lifts were broken.

Mrs Hood finally got moved to Ward 22 (elder care) yesterday afternoon after the Belfast Telegraph and Michelle McIlveen, Mrs Craig's MLA, intervened.

Last night a spokeswoman for the South Eastern Trust said: "The trust is extremely concerned at the issues raised by this patient's daughter and we are anxious to discuss them in person.

"However, she has neither approached us with her concerns, nor has she asked to see a senior manager. Our clinical manager has tried to make contact with her today following inquiries from the media, but she was not on the ward, nor answering her phone.

"It would be inappropriate to speak to the media until we have had face-to- face discussions with the family."

Further reading

Health service transition requires realistic financing

We're bearing brunt of failing health system, insist nurses 

A dignified lady failed in her hour of need

By Liam Clarke

Mary Anne Hood is one of the old school.

She was a hard worker all her life, a committed Christian and a devoted wife and mother. "Rosemary, is this what I worked for all those years – to come to this?" she asked her daughter, lawyer Rosemary Craig.

She believed in contributing to society and believed that would also provide a safety net for her when she needed it.

She will celebrate her 99th birthday in May and is proud of the fact she has been a home delivery customer of the Belfast Telegraph for over 40 years, possibly the longest on our books.

She started working life as a mill girl in the Old Bleach Linen Company in Randalstown. Her family came to Belfast during the war with her parents. She met her husband James when he rented out the family's garage and married him in 1944, and she has been a widow since 2001.

They had two children, Rosemary the youngest and Stuart, but Mary Anne continued as a working mum. She rose to be the haberdashery buyer at McCune brothers, a big store in north Belfast, and retired at the age of 70. "My mummy raised us up according to her Presbyterian principles. She was very strict but always very loving," said Rosemary.

My mum was a picture of health before she was admitted... ...but within days the grim experience had left her a pitiful sight

Rosemary Craig's harrowing diary of her mother's four days in the Ulster Hospital

My mum Mary Anne Hood was born on May 8, 1915. She has been healthy all her life. Last September she moved into the most wonderful sheltered accommodation in Kirk House in Belfast after living independently in her little bungalow in Carrickfergus.

She had never been happier since moving into Kirk House and the residents were her friends and family.

Sadly, on March 1 mum fell and landed on her back, hurting it very badly. Unfortunately, she became very weak and had to go to hospital.

I never thought in my lifetime that I would experience the horror and hell of the past four days spent in the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald. I have visited Third World countries and I can honestly say that things in the worst wards there are not as bad as parts of the Ulster Hospital as far as dirt and pure worn-out parts of the building are concerned.

Mum was admitted at 10.30am to the A&E at the Ulster. She was dangerously ill. I telephoned A&E at 4.37pm and was told that by the time I got there mum would be in a ward. I believed them. I arrived around 6pm.

I found mum lying in a bed and I was totally shocked by her appearance. She was constantly twitching and jumping. I was informed that these were "fits". She was delighted to see me but started to cry and said she was dying.

I was immediately brought into a side office and spoken to by a female consultant. She said mum was really ill. I was so distressed I could not really understand what she was talking about. I had it in my head that mum had a sore back. The consultant spoke about urea, and said mum had pneumonia and they were going to do a CT scan. She said she was on a very strong antibiotic and it was really a "waiting game".

I was traumatised. I could not believe that my mum was so ill in such a short space of time.

I went back out to the ward to be with mum. I totally disapprove of mixed wards. The nurses arrived to insert a catheter. Mum is a dignified lady and was so shocked that discussion of this should take place in front of men. She just closed her eyes and began to weep. It was shocking to say the least. Outside the curtains I, along with everyone else, could hear the whole conversation. Nothing was left to the imagination.

The nurses were wonderful and kind, but mum's dignity was gone for ever.

Mum was moved to a side ward around 8pm. She had a drip up. Nurses came in periodically to put in antibiotic and pain killer, but the drip kept breaking down and an alarm was constantly going off. I had to continually go out and ask for someone to come and fix it. The fluids were stopping every time it happened.

In the early hours a nurse came in and put up a bottle of pain killer. When it ran out I had again to go and look for the nurse to put the fluids line back on mum's wrist. If the alarm sounded (which it continued to do all night) I had to go out and get a nurse. No one was available to answer the alarm the ward was so busy. It was embarrassing to have to keep going out and ask for someone to come in.

The ward outside was extremely busy. Unknown to me, it was a continuation of A&E for patients assessed for admission. Nothing more. There was no specialist treatment or categorisation.

In order to get refreshment one has to travel down from the fourth floor to the ground floor. The lifts were regularly out of order but the stairs are taken up by those smoking. They hang out of windows or run in and out of an open emergency door. It is quite disgraceful and the smell of smoke and sight of butts is disgusting.

The dirt of the lifts was quite unbelievable. Over the days I observed the same stains and bags of rubbish lying in the lifts, on the stairs and communal areas. I watched a lady retch from the smell and sight of a line of used dinner trolleys in the corridor.

At one stage the public and a gentleman pushing a corpse on a trolley used the same lift on Monday evening. My friend and I were appalled and took the stairs.

Last Saturday morning I left mum to get some coffee. When I got back I was shocked to see her sitting in a chair with tears running down her face. She was in such agony it was pitiful. She said: "Oh Rosemary, I am dying. My back is so sore. I want to go home to Jesus."

I was so angry – no one understood about the pain in mum's back. I knew she had not had any pain relief since the visit of the doctor some time ago, who did not return.

Sitting her up in a chair when she was so ill and suffering pain in her lower spine was hell for her. I can understand people should not be left lying in a bed if they have pneumonia, but no one seemed to understand about her severe back pain and the hell it was for her to move. She never once complained. Staff to this day have told me she never complains and denies anything is wrong. She taught us "never complain".

Wrong strategy, I have learned.

The ward was unbelievably busy. I saw a young ward sister coming up the ward. I explained that my mum was in absolute agony. She apologised and went to the trolley to get mum's notes. She admitted to me that more than six hours had passed since she had had pain relief despite the fact that it should be given every four hours.

At around 11am a man collapsed and actually died outside mum's door. His body was not removed from the bed until 7.30pm that evening. That is sad. This incident caused awful problems for a ward already cracking under the strain of staff shortages. The fact the deceased had to lie in a bed in a mixed ward with a curtain around him for hours was disgraceful.

The sister should have finished duty at 3.30pm. At 6pm she was still there. That is wrong and not helpful. Staff are being exploited. She was not the only one this was happening to. The number of staff required to attend to the poor man when he collapsed was not factored into the equation.

I continued to look after my mum attending to her sips of water, wetting her lips.

There was no one else to do it. I continued going out to call a nurse every time the alarm went off.

Staff told me that the drip machines were temperamental and caused a lot of problems, with alarms continually sounding. I had to keep asking for the regular four-hourly medication.

I was told that mum could not get her back X-rayed because she was in the A&E queue and everyone down there was in front of her. I was incredulous.

I walked down to the A&E department.

I was disgusted to see drunken people, people cursing and swearing at staff, all being treated and X-rayed while my darling mum lay in agony.

Bearing in mind that she lay in A&E from 10.30am until 6pm, one wondered why she was not X-rayed then.

My brother was told Ward 15 was a holding ward and mum would be moved on Monday to a proper ward (she was supposed to be in a medical ward), where she could be cared for only if there was a bed. Obviously there are no beds, as mum was still in the same ward at the time of writing.

I continued to ask about mum's back X-ray. I was told again on Sunday that she had to go to A&E for it as the department did not work at the weekend.

I was appalled. I was told that mum was on a waiting list and she would have to take her place in the queue. I was outraged.

I then telephoned into the ward from outside and asked for mum to be discharged. When staff asked why, I responded that I was taking her to A&E and I had eight friends going to come in to A&E with back problems. Whoever is taken for X-ray first will give their place to my mum. Mum was pushed down to X-ray quite quickly after that.

A consultant later said the X-ray of her back was clear, as was a CT scan of her brain that they did on Friday.

On Monday I came in around 11.30am. Mum was agitated and the room was stinking. There is no facility to shower her. She gets washed in a basin by nursing staff.

I was also very concerned about the bins in her room containing contaminated material lying there for 24 hours at a time.

I fed her her lunch as usual. There was no one else to do it and she cannot hold a spoon, never mind feed herself.

My friend, who was there in my absence, told me that a doctor had to come and put in a needle as mum's veins were collapsing. That meant that the drip had stopped and no fluid was going in, never mind antibiotic or pain relief.

When I returned to mum's room later, I noted that the needle was still in her arm. There was no connection to any tubes. I was livid. There were no staff to help me clean my mum. I had to do it. The charge nurse did not have time for anything – he was rushed off his feet.

I observed staff in that ward in the kitchen swallowing meals at breakneck speed. They never left the ward to rest or eat. They could not, as there was no one to cover. That is a disgrace for management, who should be ashamed of this terrible situation in this country.

On Tuesday the smell in mum's room was disgusting. A bin contains all the dirty clothes and soiled linen, which remain stinking there until removed the next day.

Surely this is what is causing infection in hospitals. Why are these bins not emptied many times a day? When the lid is lifted the smell is disgusting. This must harbour disease.

I am concerned after this traumatic sojourn in this hospital that people are dying through lack of care. Fluid and medication runs out and hours pass before anyone gets round to dealing with the alarms.

The minister needs to come and sit in his ward with me for 24 hours. How would he feel if a young man had to take his mother to the toilet?

The message is this – there are not enough staff, nurses and ancillary staff in these wards.

The ward my mum is in is a disgrace and an excuse to keep trolley waiting times down.

My mum said: "Rosemary, is this what I worked for all those years to come to this?"

Answer that, Mr Poots.


Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph