A father has written a long and passionate letter detailing his wife and son’s 13 hours of hell in the emergency department at Torbay Hospital.
Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com
The letter (published in full below) details what happened when Liz Jeffery drove her 24-year-old son Miles to the hospital herself with an emergency bowel condition after being told there would be a six hour wait for an ambulance.
Throughout the ordeal she was in contact with her husband Alan who was working in Plymouth and he heard first hand a blow-by-blow account of the horrors they encountered all around them.
At one point, sobbing and in pain, Liz said her son asked her: “Mum have I died and gone to hell?”
Torbay Hospital says they are seeing more patients, waits are longer in the Emergency Department and it has become harder to discharge patients because of people with Covid in the community and in their staff.
Mother and son witnessed the already overcrowded and cramped waiting room getting more and more full as they waited for help for 12 hours on Wednesday this week – watching as up to 16 ambulances queued outside.
The couple said they have nothing but praise for the five staff (two health care assistants, one nurse and two doctors) who were there – and also for the high quality of care at Torbay Hospital their son Miles has had for multiple complex health conditions throughout his life.
But Mr Jeffery says he is angry at the people who were not there – and is asking “Where are the managers?”
And he added: “Why are there less than half the staff running a busy A&E department than I have running my garage?”
Mr Jeffery, from Littlehempston near Totnes, is a consultant and former owner of Engine Tuner garage in Plymouth for 37 years.
He said it was like a war zone.
“Conditions were only separated from the Lebanon by the absence of broken glass and rubble,” he said.
In the end the couple decided that their son was too ill to stay all night, sitting on a hard plastic chair in A&E and waiting for a doctor on his morning rounds to see them. There were no beds and no trolleys for him to lie on.
“We were told that Miles was next in line for a bed – I got the distinct impression that he would only get one if somebody died,” Mrs Jeffery said.
She had to sign disclaimer forms before being allowed to drive her son home.
“I knew there was no point asking for an ambulance as I could see they were all still queueing outside,” she said.
Mrs Jeffery said there was no privacy for people who arrived. She cried as she recalled the young mum who came in reporting a miscarriage. Another woman collapsed unconscious at their feet. An elderly man with dementia sat bleeding beside them. A woman with a “hideously deformed” broken leg, with sweat on her face from the pain, had to keep asking people not to kick her leg as they walked past.
Police brought in a man in a spit hood. A male security guard was the only person free to take a woman in a wheelchair to the toilet. Another woman drunk or on drugs wet herself as she slept.
“It was like watching an episode of a horror movie – every time someone comes in you would hear an even worse story. There’s no privacy,” Mrs Jeffrery said.
“I’ve never been through anything like it in my whole life. We want to stress that Miles has had nothing but superb treatment his whole life at that hospital.
“And the people working on Wednesday were kind and patient – the young health care assistants looked only about 18 or 19 to me. One looked in danger of collapsing herself because she was the one everyone was firing questions at. The doctor we saw was running down the corridors. He was so kind. He even took blood samples himself because there was such a long wait.”
He husband decided to put pen to paper to tell people about the broken system.
“Liz was telling me everything live via Messenger,” he said. “It was lucky I wasn’t there because I would have gone apoplectic.
“I was listening to her and thinking ‘Where’s the managers?’ It’s ludicrous that they only have five people running that department.
“The system is broken. It was just lucky that my son didn’t have internal bleeding. Miles shouldn’t have been going through A&E – it’s just a convenient catch-all.
“People were scared and in pain and nobody was coming up to ask them if they needed the toilet, a drink – there was no simple humanity.
“I do not believe that “under funding” is the direct cause of this. I believe that muddled thinking, poor management and a completely flawed attitude to primary care is at fault. Along with the care system, it has been completely forgotten that how people feel really matters.
“”The practice of funnelling everybody through the A and E bottleneck should cease. There must be a viable method of dispersal to the correct sort of care that avoids everybody being lumped together in a humiliating lottery for attention. Remember, it should be an Accident and Emergency department, not the war zone it has become.”
What Torbay Hospital had to say
A spokesperson for Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are sorry to hear about the experience of Mr Jeffery’s family. While we are unable to comment on individual cases, we would encourage anyone who has concerns about the care and treatment they receive from our services to contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service so that we can investigate.
“Like most trusts, we have been under significant pressure during recent months with more people needing emergency treatment and an increase in prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, our hospitals and our staff. This has had an impact across our whole healthcare system with fewer beds available in our hospitals and in care homes and fewer care staff to support people at home. This in turn makes it difficult to discharge people from hospital into the community or back home, and means that sometimes patients being admitted to hospital from our Emergency Department (ED) will experience long waits before we can find a ward bed for them.
“We are seeing five per cent more people attending our Emergency Department than at the same time last year and sadly, many of those attending do face long waits for treatment if their condition is not an immediate life-threatening emergency.
“Every person waiting for care is important to us, and our dedicated staff will always prioritise the sickest patients first. Sadly, in the current environment, this means difficult decisions often have to be made and some people experience a longer wait and a poorer overall experience than we would like.”
“Our Emergency Department team make sure that patients waiting are assessed and care is escalated and prioritised where there are clinical concerns about individual patients.”
Mr Jeffery’s Letter to the Editor in full:
This litany of disasters happened this week in Torbay Hospital but I believe it could have been anywhere in the country.
My wife had to take our son to A and E. A call to 111 was made after he started suffering considerable pain from a bowel condition that was previously under control.
A paramedic was suggested but ruled out due to none being available.
We were told that they would call back in an hour and a half. They didn’t. Another call suggested an ambulance, but they thought it could take up to six hours.
Having discussed the matter, my wife decided to drive our son to A and E herself. With some difficulty, bearing in mind that despite a stoic nature regarding his chronic bowel problem, my son is also on the Autistic Spectrum and has been known to have epileptic episodes when ill.
He was safely delivered into what he subsequently and accurately described as “Hell”.
There were people literally rammed in there, sitting, standing, anything but lying down as there was nothing to lie down on. No trollies, never mind beds, just rows of hard plastic chairs containing a smorgasbord of misery.
Sixteen ambulances were parked outside with patients waiting their turn in the bear pit. A lady sat right alongside my wife had a horribly dislocated ankle and was in terrible pain, begging passers by to be careful as they blundered about.
An elderly man was wearing a mask caked in blood, dripping down the front of his chest.
A couple came in, slowly working their way in, the lady’s face down at one side, clearly displaying the tendencies of a stroke victim.
They were sent away after four hours. There were numerous walking wounded in there, my wife said she would have suspected a bus crash, but they didn’t all come in together.
Babies were crying, people talking loudly on phones, some complaining loudly, some being asked to leave. Several times, she was approached by people asking for help, including one poor lady who requested assistance with the toilet.
My wife couldn’t help her, even though she wanted to, as my son demanded all her attention. No one else offered. One lady told the nurse in clear earshot of everybody listening that she’d had a stillbirth a few months previously and suspected that she had an ectopic pregnancy due to the pain she was in. She was left clutching her stomach and sobbing in a chair for hours.
The police arrived at one point, dragging in someone wearing a spit hood. Security guards were present, stopping people who were helping other people from coming in, unless they could say they were “carers”. Many who were sat on those hard slabs of plastic could have done with some company, shared misery being somehow easier to bear.
Throughout all of this, patients were attended to by just one nurse, two doctors and two ladies dressed in green who were attempting to administer a house of babel from behind glass. I say just one nurse, as every time a shift change took place, the one nurse left to be replaced by another nurse. After four hours, my son was examined by a doctor, who was kind and knowledgeable. Regrettably, he mentioned accessing a blood test, only to be told that my son hadn’t had one.
He did it himself, via a canula insertion. An x ray was recommended, for fear that my son could have a dangerously blocked bowel. Thankfully, the x ray, done several hours later, confirmed the negative.
There then followed several more hours sitting in waiting room purgatory, nowhere for him to lie down, supposedly waiting for a bed, before my wife decided enough was enough. My wife and son had been given no access to food or drink. The shop was closed. The water fountain had no cups.
They were there for thirteen hours in total with no actual medicinal attention, including the hour it took to have the canula removed and more time wasted signing disclaimers because leaving the place was the only viable option. He obviously wasn’t getting a bed, so our son was taken back home to his own. The day after, he was finally seen by a doctor in the gastro department, who is taking his condition forward. His pain has lessened, he needs further treatment.”