Two healthcare assistants who abused elderly female patients on the geriatric ward of an under-fire hospital were jailed today.
Akousa Sakyiwaa, 38, was convicted of four counts of ill-treatment and neglect of patients on Beech Ward at Whipps Cross University Hospital in Leytonstone, east London, between February and April last year.
Sharmila Gunda, 36, was found guilty of one count of neglect and one count of assault by beating an elderly patient in her care following a trial in June.
Sakyiwaa, of Leytonstone, was jailed for 12 months and Gunda, of Ilford, given a five-month prison sentence at London's Snaresbrook Crown Court.
Fellow healthcare assistant Annette Jackson, 33, of Hounslow, west London, was given a two-month suspended sentence and ordered to complete 100 hours unpaid work after being convicted of one count of ill-treatment or neglect.
The three women were charged following a Metropolitan Police inquiry into the hospital after a student nurse acted as a whistleblower.
Delivering his sentence, Judge Timothy Lamb QC said the women's actions had "damaged patient trust" in the NHS.
The three women were responsible for looking after elderly female patients with various physical and mental conditions, including dementia, prosecutor John McNally said.
"An entitlement to proper care should not be a matter of chance or be given at the whim of the carer. The conduct complained of simply had no place on any ward," he told the jury.
The women would physically and verbally abuse patients, often telling them to shut up, as well as handling them in a rough and aggressive manner, police said.
Sakyiwaa was found guilty of four counts of neglect against three patients, including holding a bed sheet over 87-year-old Joan Massett's head and telling her she was dead, the court heard.
She pushed Ms Massett's breasts in another incident and forcefully twisted her mouth which was both "demeaning and completely unnecessary", Mr McNally said.
Sakyiwaa shouted at 88-year-old patient Elizabeth Toussaint to force her to sit in a chair and slapped Louise Hodges, 92, after cleaning her, the hearing was told.
Jackson was found guilty of one count of neglecting patient Barbara Jones, while Gunda was found guilty of one charge of neglect and one charge of assault by beating June Evans.
Addressing the defendants, Mr Lamb said: "In short, by your offending you have let down your colleagues, you have damaged patient trust and you have undermined the quality of care for the elderly and vulnerable at Whipps Cross."
Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, has apologised to patients and stressed it has a "zero tolerance approach" to any form of neglect or ill-treatment.
In a statement issued following the verdicts, the trust said: "We apologise unreservedly to the patients of Beech Ward and their families for the indefensible failings in their treatment during their time in our care.
"There can be no place under any circumstances for such behaviour in our trust or in the wider NHS."
The trust said that following an internal disciplinary investigation, all three women had their contracts of employment terminated.
It added: "We take a zero tolerance approach to any form of neglect or ill-treatment of our patients and applaud the student nurses who showed courage and integrity in raising the alarm.
"It is the duty of every member of staff to report such behaviour and we will actively encourage and support this through our whistleblowing policy which is made clear to all staff on day one of their employment with the Trust, with ongoing reminders to existing staff during regular statutory and mandatory training.
"Moreover, we will take action against any member of staff who turns a blind eye, or fails to take immediate and appropriate action, if they witness any form of abuse or negligence."
Barts Health NHS Trust was issued with three formal warnings last week after inspectors found "unsafe" conditions at Whipps Cross including filthy maternity wards and water placed out of the reach of elderly patients.
The trust had "failed to protect the safety and welfare of patients" and must now make "urgent improvements" following unannounced inspections in May and June, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said.
The judge labelled Gunda "spiteful" before telling Sakyiwaa: "Maybe this offending showed a sign of your character that you and other people didn't know about."
Mr Lamb acknowledged that Jackson, who broke down in tears in court, was the sole guardian of her young son in handing her a suspended sentence.
Only one of the elderly victims, June Evans, was able to give evidence during the trial.
In a statement read to the court, she said: "Since the incident that took place last year I have completely lost trust in the health service.
"I lost faith in my GP, the ambulance service and hospitals in general."
Ms Evans discharged herself from the hospital following the assault and was in a state of distress when she had to return to Whipps Cross for further treatment.
"I wanted to die," she said.
"I thought why couldn't I have a heart attack and end it"
A number of further charges of neglect, assault and fraud related to the women were ordered to remain on file.
Following the sentencing, Detective Sergeant Tammy Dempsey, from the Met's Community Safety Unit in Waltham Forest, said: "These three women had a responsibility for the welfare of those who were under their care.
"The public and families of these elderly patients have a right to expect that they will be treated with respect and looked after in an appropriate manner.
"Gunda, Jackson and Sakyiwaa let everyone down and it's right that they have been found guilty at court.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who had the courage to come forward and report these offences and give their evidence in court."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies