Call to end care in cupboard

Most patients and their families would never describe a stay in hospital as pleasant but with the right care and treatment it can be made as simple and as painless as possible.

Most patients and their families would never describe a stay in hospital as pleasant but with the right care and treatment it can be made as simple and as painless as possible.

However the Norfolk and Norwich is currently suffering unprecedented pressure which has resulted in a number of significant and unacceptable problems - culminating in patients feeling they are not being treated with an appropriate level of dignity.

People were rightly shocked at the treatment of 85-year-old Rhoda Talbot who was forced to spend the night in a treatment room, which can be best described as a stock cupboard, in which she was surrounded by blood-stained bins, bandages and electrical treatment.

Unfortunately this case, revealed by the Evening News last week, was not a one-off and Mrs Talbot's plight laid bare the sorry situation which has emerged at our multi-million pound hospital in the past 18 months.

It seems this form of care - when an 'escalation process' is launched under times of severe pressure because there are not enough beds available - is a familiar one for many patients at the N&N.

We know nurses and doctors work hard to do their best for patients and we know they are also not happy with how they are being forced to care for people in undignified circumstances.

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But the situation cannot be allowed to go on, which is why the Evening News is launching a campaign to end indignity in care - to get health bosses to address an issue which can only get worse while patient demand is at such a high level.

And today we received the backing of key politicians and health campaigners who are calling for better treatment for patients of all ages.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'If I was in a position of responsibility at the hospital I would ensure this situation was thoroughly investigated.

'It is absolutely vital this is addressed and I totally support the Evening News campaign to improve the quality of care for patients.'

North Norfolk MP and Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb added: 'I totally support this campaign because we have a responsibility to protect patients.

'It is totally unacceptable to put patients in store rooms or treatment rooms - in fact anywhere where they do not feel they have any dignity and where they can be constantly disturbed.

'I would not be happy if any of my friends or relatives were put there. It is not just the hospital's fault, it is the entire system which needs sorting out urgently.

'This has an impact on a patient's well being and self esteem and ultimately affects their recovery process. So in the long run not only are patients suffering by facing indignity but there is also a long term cost to the NHS which can be avoided.

'This is just one of many problems which will not go away while the hospital is facing such a high demand. I really hope this campaign will open some eyes and convince managers to act on this once and for all.'

The decision to place patients in treatment rooms was first highlighted a year ago when bosses admitted there were not enough beds available within 19 out of 27 wards at the hospital.

Not only were patients put in treatment rooms but in one case staff were so desperate to free up beds for sick patients a dead body was moved to a bathroom instead of being taken straight to the hospital's morgue.

The N&N said this escalation process was not common and a combination of winter illnesses and high demand had contributed to the capacity problem.

However, months later and the problems persist, leading to the current situation.

When the problem was first raised the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, both dominant health unions, said that patient dignity was being compromised and called for an immediate overhaul.

Today they added their weight to the Evening News campaign.

Adrian Ing from the Royal College of Nursing said: 'I am definitely behind this campaign because last year when the hospital had problems we issued a campaign which was aimed at improving dignity for patients.

'The use of treatment rooms flies in the face of this campaign and makes a mockery out of it. If patients are unhappy that they are being treated in what they feel is a cupboard then this makes then unhappy and they feel undignified.

'I hope the Evening News campaign helps health bosses to see that a joined up approach is the only way we can resolve this issue. Hospitals, primary care trusts and social services need to work together to ensure we are using the right discharge process because obviously there are too many patients for the space at the N&N.

'This is as upsetting for nurses as anyone and it is one of the biggest causes of stress for them because they want the best possible care for patients.

'This is a serious issue and I am glad the Evening News is taking the initiative.'

Harry Seddon from Unison added: 'When this first happened last year we were told it was an exceptional case but it now seems to have become the norm.

'I welcome any campaign which helps us get back to the point where this is not a normal or acceptable practice.'

Patrick Thompson from Norfolk Local Involvement Network (LINk), a health watchdog, said: 'Respect and dignity are incredibly important and if any patients or relatives of patients contact us with their problems we can launch an investigation.

'We support any campaign which helps improve a service for patients.'

The N&N insists its priority is to get patients the 'best possible care' and to ensure their dignity and privacy is protected.

Christine Baxter, director of nursing at the N&N, said: 'We always ask patients if they would be prepared to move into a treatment room and explain to them the reason for this request.

'In a couple of instances patients have declined to move into a treatment room and we have respected their wishes. We regard the use of treatment rooms as a temporary solution at times of intense pressure on beds. It enables us to admit emergency patients at peak periods and reduce the number of elective surgical patients we would otherwise have to cancel.'

What do you think? Write with your views on the issue to health reporter Sarah Hall at Norwich Evening News, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email