Letter: Hospitals fail to accept the fact of death

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Hoyland's article brought back many painful memories of how my late father, who also suffered from Parkinson's disease, was treated by the NHS.

He suffered for 18 years before he died in 1979 and John Hoyland is exactly right when he states that there is no suitable palliative care outside of the hospice movement.

My father was a good amateur athlete in his youth and served in the RAF in the Second World War, but to the NHS he was no more than a guinea pig for treatments that came too late for him and finally a burden. We found him literally tied to a chair in one hospital because they didn't want him to get bed sores by lying in bed, but had neither the time nor resources to do anything with him.

In the hospital where he was admitted for urgent surgery to a strangulated hernia, he was left without medication and food, urine bottles were left by his bedside for hours as he was unable to make enough fuss for anyone to come and remove them. Finally he was discharged home with abscesses on every stitch as a result of which he haemorrhaged and was admitted back into ITU as an emergency. We actually received a written apology for that, but it did not alter the fact that he had suffered needlessly.

He died early one Friday evening in a general ward in the middle of visiting time. It was both an inappropriate and undignified way to die. Since then, I have myself worked in the health service, both in administration and clinical work and have to say that there is no training to speak of in dealing with incurables. The whole focus is on treatment at any cost however undignified to the patient.

As a student diagnostic radiographer I saw elderly, desperately ill patients sent for barium enemas when they had no capacity to retain the barium. Inevitably their bowels evacuated and left them embarrassed and distressed beyond words. Hospitals can be very intimidating places and it is hard when you are feeling at your lowest ebb to insist on fair treatment.

There is a huge difference between assisting someone to die and helping them accept death if that is their only option. Is it too much to ask that we show kindness and tolerance towards those whom we cannot cure?


Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire