Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 13 June 2009

10 Ways the NHS is Killing People

Over the past few years, three close relatives of mine have been seriously ill. In each case, their chances of survival were seriously impaired by a catalogue of mismanagement and inefficiency. In particular, the delays in diagnosis and treatment, if other patients have had the same experiences, could be significant in the UK’s shameful cancer survival statistics.

'No shows' at consultant appointments cost the NHS many thousands every year. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever fully researched why patients miss appointments; they could start by asking members of my family, who, despite their assiduous efforts to attend every appointment, have experienced the following:
1. A consultant’s appointment letter sent to an empty house – the ‘client’ being a long-term in-patient in another department of the consultant's own hospital at the time. 
2. Several urgent appointment notifications received some days after the appointment date because ‘the hospital post-room only operates one day a week to save money’.
3. A vital letter which the consultant never saw – according to subsequent enquiries, it was opened by a secretary who decided it was not urgent and put it straight into the filing cabinet.
4. An urgent letter from a consultant which did not reach the patient in time because his secretary took two weeks to type it up. 
5. The receptionist who failed to mark the patient as having arrived for an appointment – so the consultant went home without seeing her. 
6. The receptionist who gave a cancer patient an appointment (requiring an 80-mile round-trip by taxi) on the consultant’s day off.
Of course, you have to get a referral to the consultant in the first place, which is not easy when you are faced with:
7. The GP who missed a cancer for 2 years, despite textbook symptoms, because the non-smoking, non-drinking 7-stone patient ‘didn’t fit the profile’. 
8. The GP who dismissed advanced cancer symptoms as side-effects of HRT, saying ‘if people bothered about side-effects, nobody would ever take anything’. 
9. The GP who refused for 5 months to carry out a PSA test (an indicator of prostate cancer) because, he said, the patient was merely experiencing 'normal side effects from statins'– when the test was finally done, the cancer was too far advanced for treatment.
And then again, there’s the careless lack of attention to detail:
10. The consultant who, we can only assume, gave a diagnosis of cancer to the wrong patient. On checking in late (after traffic delays), my relative was told by a puzzled receptionist, 'You've already had your test results; your name was ticked off the list when you went in twenty minutes ago'.
All of the events described here have happened to members of my family in recent years and have contributed to at least one premature death. I’m not going to say any more on the personal side here, but I have promised them that I will use any means in my power to publicise what has gone wrong while safeguarding their anonymity.


  1. Thanks to the computer, I have a document, regularly updated, which has my essential details, and a full medical history and a photograph. So when I go to see a doctor or nurse, and especially anything at the local mort... sorry hospital. I always have a copy with me, with others for any medical staff. So I know what is in the file, and more important, they know that the file they are looking at refers to me. Also, when I turn up and no file is to be found, we can make do with my records. It is much better, being readable, properly structured, succinct, saves a huge amount of time and avoids errors.

  2. Demetrius: a sensible precaution, and one I unreservedly recommend - my family have adopted similar measures since we began to experience the failings of the NHS clerical system.

    The rapid expansion of NHS bureaucracy under New Labour has, I think, inevitably imported a lot of dead wood, being paid by the hour regardless of efficiency (or the lack thereof). How we set about clearing it, I have no idea; I suspect clerical staff have a mighty and vociferous union and a clean sweep is out of the question.

    The most galling thing of all is that, unlike the patients whose ends have been hastened by their inefficiency, these receptionists and secretaries can look forward to a long and affluent retirement on tax-payer-funded pensions.

  3. Good lord, that's a horrendous catalogue of errors...

    When my father was admitted to hospital a few years ago due to being unable to swallow (he had a piece of food lodged in his throat), they stuck him on a drip and basically left him, for at least five days.

    It took the intervention of me - and my mother - to get them to finally do an endoscopy, and only after the magic words 'complaint' and 'local paper' had been invoked.

    Once, we turned up at visiting and decided to brace the duty ward sister (a bloke). He started out by saying "Well, Mrs ****, with your husband's history of heart trouble, we are..." and tailed off when he realised we were staring at him blankly.

    He had the wrong patient's notes in his hands...

  4. Thank you for this post. I'm taking the liberty of sharing it with others.

  5. My partner went in Bolton hospital with alcohol liver disease and had stop drinking all the time she was in there but in stead of improving she died six weeks later because they give strong laxative twice a day so she had no nutrition are strength to fight of the disease .
    Are to rebuild any damage that she had done.
    All she wanted as a second chance in live and she would of come out a better people but she had no chance with the care the NHS give her.
    Ward c3 thank you nothing because that want you give my partner


Moderation is on as I’m having some technical difficulties with Comments