Health watchdog rounds on 'inept' hospitals service

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The Independent Online
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SLOPPY procedures and lack of support for junior hospital staff, be they doctors or secretaries, are 'deplored' by William Reid, the health ombudsman, in his latest report on complaints about health services.

In one case a woman was admitted to hospital dying of lung cancer, though neither she nor her husband were told of the diagnosis. Despite repeated requests to see a doctor, none spoke to the couple for six days after her admission. Then a consultant saw her the day she died.

The junior doctor on the case said he had been annoyed by persistent requests from nurses to see the woman and had 'blanked them out'.

In another case 'doggedly inept communications' meant that a woman had two wasted hospital admissions. In the first, the consultant had gone on holiday without leaving any instructions about how the woman should be dealt with and she went home. In the second, a professor she was sent to see at a different hospital was not expecting her and had no clinic.

'Many members of staff providing care or implementing procedures are quite junior. Unless they are adequately trained, supported and supervised, things can go badly wrong,' Mr Reid said yesterday. 'Adequate training and guidance are essential if staff are to deliver improved services to patients in the NHS.

'Some of my investigations reveal a sorry catalogue of ineptitude. This is particularly to be deplored when so much helpful guidance has been issued by the professional bodies to their members in the NHS as well as by health departments.' Mr Reid called on senior staff to ensure that procedures were in place and understood, and that they guided and instructed their junior staff.

In Report of the Health Service Commissioner for April to September 1992, Mr Reid gives details of 16 of the 52 investigations he made in the period.

In other complaints upheld by Mr Reid, a pregnant woman was refused ante-natal care at a Scottish hospital because she had complained about her care during a previous pregnancy. She alleged that one consultant had persuaded his colleagues not to treat her.

In a fourth case, a man who needed specialist surgery told the hospital when he would be on holiday. The hospital called him for surgery during that time and when he did not appear, struck him off the waiting list.

Report of the Health Service Commissioner; HMSO; pounds 14.25.