NHS scandal exposed as elderly patients ‘treated like animals’ on overwhelmed hospital wards

The government has admitted the accounts of poor care uncovered by The Independent were ‘unacceptable’ and ‘fall well below the standard of care we expect’  (iStock/Getty)
The government has admitted the accounts of poor care uncovered by The Independent were ‘unacceptable’ and ‘fall well below the standard of care we expect’ (iStock/Getty)

Distressed elderly patients are being “treated like animals” and left begging for care as NHS staff struggle to cope with overwhelmed wards and an ever-increasing ageing population, an investigation by The Independent has revealed.

Scores of families have come forward to share harrowing allegations of neglect as one top doctor warns that elderly people are receiving care “well below the standards they should expect” – including long waits in waiting rooms and “degrading” corridor care.

In one shocking case, a 96-year-old patient admitted to the hospital with a urinary tract infection (UTI) was allegedly left semi-naked and delirious in his hospital bed – before choking on vomit after being sedated without his family’s permission, his daughter told The Independent. Another patient, 99, was traumatised after being left in a bed next to the body of a dead woman.

The investigation was sparked by the horrific story of 73 year old Martin Wild who was left so desperate for pain medication he was forced to call 999 from his hospital bed.

It comes as analysis by this publication shows the government was warned three times last year by coroners over the increasing risk to elderly patients’ lives amid fears they are not being “effectively safeguarded”.

Top geriatric medic Dr Adam Gordon told The Independent that older patients are being allowed to deteriorate on a daily basis, warning there are stories of patients “who have come to very real harm”.

The Independent can also report that:

  • More than half – nearly 750,000 – of the 1.5 million patients who waited more than 12 hours to be seen in A&E last year were aged 70 or over

  • Almost 250,000 of the 1.4 million over-75s who were discharged from hospital in 2022-23 were readmitted to hospital within 30 days

  • Latest statistics show an increasing number of patients – 2,033 – suffered fractures from falls in hospitals last year, latest figures show

  • The number of patients developing hospital-acquired bedsores hit a 3 per cent high in December 2023

  • Britain’s most senior A&E doctor, Dr Adrian Boyle, said the health service was providing “undignified” care for older people who are put at risk of harm while waiting in emergency departments

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A series of coroner warnings, filed as part of Prevention of Future Deaths reports – which are sent when a coroner thinks action is needed to protect lives – have raised concerns over the issue.

In November, a coroner warned health secretary Victoria Atkins that changes to elderly care must be made, while another said there was an increasing need for doctors specialising in the area.

A third warned that delayed discharges – where a patient is well enough to leave the hospital but has not been discharged – were putting the lives of frail elderly people at risk as they lose muscle mass and develop infections.

Dr John Dean, clinical vice-president at the Royal College of Physicians, described the situation as “heartbreaking”, adding: “Cases such as these are unacceptable and are sadly symptomatic of a health service stretched to its limits.”

Dr Vicky Price, president-elect of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Older patients are increasingly receiving care well below the standards they should expect and that staff wish to provide but cannot due to the intense pressures.

“This includes being subject to long waits in waiting rooms and degrading corridor care which is regrettably becoming widespread and increases the likelihood of adverse outcomes for this patient group.”

One nurse warned she is “fighting a losing battle”, with staff too stretched to carry out personal care – leading to infections. She told The Independent: “It makes you wonder why you come to work because this has been like this for a long time and it doesn’t get any better.”

The government admitted the accounts of poor care uncovered by The Independent were “unacceptable” and “fall well below the standard of care we expect”.

‘Treated like an animal’

Thomas Giles was being treated for delirium in hospital (Alison Giles)
Thomas Giles was being treated for delirium in hospital (Alison Giles)

Thomas Giles, 96, was “treated like an animal” during a hospital stay in December and January, his daughter Dr Alison Giles claims.

In a complaint to Mersey and West Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust,his daughter alleges her father was left “exposed to all passers-by, ill, semi-naked, distressed, delirious and neglected in care” during his two-month stay. She also said he ended up choking on his vomit because he was so heavily sedated.

Mr Giles was admitted to A&E at Whiston Hospital in Lancashire on 3 December with concerns over his confused state and spent eight hours in the corridor, according to his daughter.

The next morning, after he had been moved to the hospital’s ward for frail elderly people, she returned to see her father “distressed” and suffering “delirium” due to a UTI.

This, Dr Giles claims, marked the start of weeks of Mr Giles being sedated without the family’s permission.

In a series of shocking claims of poor treatment, Dr Giles said her father was, at one point, left with a wound dressing that was “sopping wet and coming off because it is so saturated”.

In heartbreaking pleas during his hospital stay, she said her father told her that “some of the staff here are cruel” and: “I have never felt so hopeless, and I have never cried like I cried yesterday.”

In her complaint, she wrote: “I can only say that I’ve been in medicine for decades now and what I saw on that ward was so horrific and aberrant I could not initially register what was happening. It represented every concern about the NHS I’ve seen highlighted in previous serious case reviews.”

A trust spokesperson said: “Where patients don’t feel our care has been good enough we encourage them to come forward and raise those concerns directly with the trust. We have been in ongoing contact with Mr Giles and his family and will respond in full to them around the concerns they have raised.”

‘Better off at the vet’

Kathleen Hoddell, 99, was treated at Queens Burton Hospital (Sally Ann Newstead)
Kathleen Hoddell, 99, was treated at Queens Burton Hospital (Sally Ann Newstead)

On Christmas Eve in 2021, 99-year-old Kathleen Hoddell was taken to Queens Hospital Burton A&E, Derbyshire, and later diagnosed with fractures in her spine. But she was sent home with just two paracetamols, according to her daughter Sally Ann Newstead.

Weeks later, she was readmitted for the same problem to the same A&E, where she was allegedly left for hours without any pain medication.

The next morning, the family described finding their mother in a “woeful” situation, with no staff on the ward – and a dead woman in the bed next to her.

“There were no curtains. She [the dead woman] was just there. My mother had been sitting out in a chair and she was just beside herself. She was just shaking, freezing cold, she had nothing on her feet,” Ms Newstead said.

She added: “There was none of that kind of basic care. No one washed her hands or combed her hair or had taken the soup from her face. It was just woeful. There was no pain relief. It just broke my heart. And it seemed as though there was a lack of staff.

“Some try their very best but these junior doctors are doctors and they are in a kind of crisis situation all the time. They don’t know who to help first.”

Days later, Ms Newstead received a call from her mother from the ward, saying: “You have to get me out of here”. At one point, she said: “I’d be better off at the vet.”

“The NHS, you know, it’s a wonderful thing. But my mother’s care in 2022 was just ghastly, it was just so awful, and it worries me that it is so many elderly people’s experience of it. It’s that lack of humanity, that lack of compassion that was so prevalent and overwhelming.”

Garry Marsh, executive chief nurse for Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust which runs the hospital, said: “We would like to again apologise that in this case, we did not meet the standards we strive for.”

He said the trust had taken the family’s feedback seriously, inviting them to share their story and has since changed its processes to plan staffing levels based on the particular needs of patients on the wards.

‘Treated like meat’

Joan Stevens, 86, is a former nurse (Sharon Kidd)
Joan Stevens, 86, is a former nurse (Sharon Kidd)

In August 2023, 86-year-old Joan Stevens, a former nurse, was admitted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire following a fall. Her daughter Sharon Kidd told The Independent she spent 12 hours in an A&E corridor.

“She was mobile when she went in but, when she came out three weeks later, she was no longer mobile because they couldn’t get her out of bed,” said Ms Kidd.

While in hospital, she claimed her mother and other elderly people on the ward complained of being “treated like meat.” She said staff put her mother and other patients in a “pad” and “left them soaked or covered in s***.

“It happened many times to my mother. It would take half an hour for someone to clean her … if they did feed her, they would shovel it in so fast it would choke her,” she claimed.

Ms Kidd said her mother was “mortified” when a staff member apparently left her naked, “lying on the bed with nothing on and no curtain around her” after the staff went to change her pad.

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust said: “Our aim is to treat every patient with dignity and respect, and we were proud in our last CQC inspection that our colleagues were commended for being outstanding for caring.

“We were therefore disappointed to hear about Ms Kidd’s concerns relating to the care of her late mother last year, and would urge her to contact us directly so that we can investigate the issues she has raised.”

Left in soaked sheets

Ron Gladding, 94, is an RAF veteran (Jane Gladding)
Ron Gladding, 94, is an RAF veteran (Jane Gladding)

Last year, former Royal Air Force veteran Rob Gladding, 94, was admitted to Poole Hospital in Dorset.

During his time there Mr Gladding was left in soiled sheets after staff ignored his bells when he needed to go to the toilet, according to his daughter Jane,

Eventually, he was given a catheter but when it overflowed and wet his bed, he was left in the mess overnight.

“It was extremely distressing for him and us all to observe. One night, he was waiting for someone to come and make his bed which hadn’t been done in the morning,” she said.

Ms Gladding says he was discharged and readmitted to hospital just three weeks later. His ordeal then continued to the point where “he became so weak he couldn’t feed himself or take a drink of water and no one helped him”.

“I feel most strongly that we have a generation of old people that the system is not caring for,” she said. “My father served his whole working life in the Royal Air Force. He contributed financially to a system that said would care for him until the end of life. I feel that most people would give their dog more kindness and compassion than he received generally from the NHS,” said his daughter.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “These accounts are unacceptable and fall well below the standard of care we expect, and our thoughts are with the affected patients and their families.

“We are committed to providing quality care for all patients, including the elderly, having already delivered on our promise to create 5,000 extra permanent hospital beds and 10,000 hospital-at-home beds to free up capacity, speed up discharge, and cut waiting times.”

It said that, through the NHS long-term workforce plan, which was given £2.4bn in funding, there will be more healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, working in the NHS.

This story was updated with a response from Buckinghamshire Healthcare FT.