Letters: Do hospitals care about a good end to life?

These letters appear in the 22 May edition of The Independent

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The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report on end-of-life care is timely (“Terminally ill patients ‘should be allowed to die at home’”, 20 May). I saw one member of my family treated very well in an NHS hospital. Then another was treated abominably in the same hospital. The difference? A different ward management, an antagonistic consultant.

He was a devout Roman Catholic, and maintained that “people must suffer when they die”. When we complained, his theology was supported by the RC hierarchy, and his reasoning by the NHS. It was also pointed out that I was gay so had no “moral standing”.

As an out gay man I fear for my end-of-life. I have made all the legal provisions I can, but was recently told by an NHS official that they would be set aside or ignored if “they” felt it was in “my interest”.

Also my request that my body go to my old university anatomy department will probably not be honoured either. Too much fuss!

In most hospitals in the NHS there is no will for decent end-of-life care. Nor do all hospices, with their mainly religious backgrounds, provide as compassionate a treatment as we would desire.

David Critchard


We hear so much about poor care of the terminally ill by the NHS. But this is not the whole picture.

At the end of 2011 my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The GP and hospital consultant were both aware of her dislike of hospitals. It was arranged for her to be cared for at home. This included the installation of a “hospital bed” so that district nurses could comfortably do her dressings, and daily carers coming in three times a day to prepare food and wash her. Macmillan nurses oversaw her medical care, although she did not have cancer. She received pain-killing drugs intravenously. The GP used to come in almost daily after his surgery to check on her.

I stayed with her and as she deteriorated Marie Curie nurses came in to cover the nights, so I could sleep. She passed away peacefully holding my hands, in her own beloved home. I could not fault any of the care she received from our wonderful NHS.

Sandra Grainger


Guildford The harrowing stories you report (20 May) show me why the hospice movement needs more money. I work in a hospice and see the holistic treatment, from clinical to emotional, financial to spiritual, received by people at the end of their lives.

The NHS is there for treatment, but where no treatment is possible it does not fulfil a useful purpose. Better to have more hospices with less reliance on charity fundraising than to put human beings through a painful end.

The NHS would save money by a change of approach. Many can be supported to die where they choose, in the hospice or at home with loved ones. The time is right for a change for the good of patients.

Gary Martin
London E17


The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report draws attention to the grossly inadequate end-of-life care in the UK (incidentally, even worse in deprived areas). While a Government independent review called for free social care to facilitate the wishes of the majority to die at home, this is hardly more likely to materialise in the present climate than is the necessary expansion of palliative care.

This is especially bad news for those terminally ill who wish not just to die at home, but also at a time of their own choosing and in a dignified manner. For these, it is even more imperative that the Assisted Dying Bill is addressed early – and passed – during this parliament.

Dr Richard Clubb
London W13


Irish referendum is democracy in action

Today Irish voters cast their ballots in a referendum on same-sex marriage. No matter what the outcome, this referendum is a vivid demonstration of dynamic democracy.

I stand for the no vote. I intuitively believe that marriage is a natural and sacred union between men and women for the continuation of human life, and the delivery of the physical and psychological health of children.

But at least I can voice this opinion without fear. This is the democracy that people sacrifice themselves elsewhere to achieve.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2


I do not agree with the concept of asking a nation of people, via a referendum, whether equal rights should be made law (“Irish flock back to vote on same-sex marriage”, 21 May). Surely the state has a duty, regardless of public opinion, to treat all its citizens equally?

But in Ireland a referendum will be the deciding factor as to whether gays and lesbians will have an equal right to get married.

Therefore, let us hope that the influence of the church becomes further diminished. Let us hope, for fairness, for decency, for equality, and that the result is a resounding yes.

Sebastian Monblat
Sutton, Surrey


‘Cake case’ law a threat to freedom

The decision in the gay cake case (20 May) should concern all of us, not just the small evangelical Christian minority. The clear implication of the judgment is that people can be compelled to promote views with which they profoundly disagree. 

The application of discrimination law to settle questions of conflicts of belief is taking us away from a free society and towards one where a secular priesthood of judges, bureaucrats and activists regulate every aspect of  our lives. Far better to take to heart the words often attributed to Voltaire: “Sir, I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

We need a proper right to freedom of speech similar to that guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Otto Inglis


Gambling cannot  be ‘responsible’

Peter Craske of the Association of British Bookmakers extols the efforts being made by betting shops to promote “responsible gambling” (letter, 21 May).

There is no such thing as “responsible gambling”, a mendacious term if ever there was one. Gambling is irresponsible and, while a small flutter might be harmless, for many gamblers it is a sickness which impoverishes and destroys families.

Bookmakers are not charities – if they were not making vast profits, there would not be so many betting shops. Until fairly recently there were planning restrictions that controlled the numbers of betting shops in any area, but these have been removed and now you can find several betting shops within yards of each other.

Mike Stroud
Sketty, Swansea


Wrong attitude to Down’s syndrome 

In the article “Father who abandoned Down’s syndrome baby now tries to access funds donated for his care” (20 May) you refer to the father of the boy with Down’s syndrome “taking his healthy sister, Pipah, home with him”. The implication of this is that the brother with Down’s syndrome is not healthy, or unwell in some way.

As far as I am aware, Down’s syndrome is not classified as an “illness”. It is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in a baby’s cells. It occurs at conception and is irreversible. Implying that it is an illness is an example of the discredited “deficit” approach to disability which sees people with conditions such as Down’s as deficient, lesser or – in this case – ill.

The deficit approach has thankfully been replaced by a more holistic social model which would see the boy with Down’s syndrome as a whole person in his own right and capable of self-fulfilment on his own terms.

Andrew Colley
Lecturer in Special Education, Cass School of Education and Communities, University of East London


Why this hatred for foxes?

The threatened repeal of the hunting ban has brought out of the woodwork many vindictive and ludicrous claims about foxes from those in favour of hunting them to death. 

Mike McHugh (letter, 21 May) comes up with a new piece of anti-fox propaganda. Having allowed his chickens to fall prey to a fox, he claims that the hens suffered the same way as a hunted fox, stating that the hens were “chased to exhaustion and then torn to pieces”. The fox chased these hens until they were exhausted? No, of course he didn’t. Nor did he “tear them to pieces”. The lack of logic or fairness and the spitefulness of those capable of hating an animal for feeding itself beggars belief. 

As someone who has a wildlife sanctuary and has had the privilege of close contact with foxes for many years, I am upset by the hatred for these animals; they are sensitive and intelligent, and easily as delightful and fascinating in character as their close relation the domestic dog. 

Penny Little
Great Haseley, Oxfordshire


After meeting Gerry Adams...

I hope Prince Charles counted his fingers after his recent handshake.

Dr John Doherty
Gaoth Dobhair,  Co Donegal, Ireland