By Gordon Rayner, Stephen Adams, Lucy Cockcroft and Laura Clout
Last Updated: 3:07am BST 12/10/2007
Families of some of the 331 patients whose deaths have been linked to Clostridium Difficile in Britain’s worst hospital superbug outbreak welcomed the findings of yesterday’s Healthcare Commission report which disclosed the scale of the scandal.
A sink in a cleaning room at Maidstone Hospital
Several of the relatives spoke to The Daily Telegraph to share their experiences of the shocking conditions, to expose the chronic understaffing which many say is to blame, and to express the devastation of seeing a loved one die in such circumstances.
A healthy 86-year-old who worked part-time in a clothes shop, Florrie Field contracted C.diff at the end of March this year after being admitted to Maidstone Hospital with an eye infection.
Doctors told her family that the chronic diarrhoea she suffered after being given anti-biotics was just a reaction to the drugs. She was sent home after two weeks.
It was only when she collapsed at home and a GP visited her that C.diff was diagnosed. She was taken to the Kent and Sussex Hospital for treatment but died on May 27.
Her daughter, Brenda Charlton, said she saw staff at Maidstone Hospital failing to wash their hands or change aprons as they went from patient to patient. Three times they told Mrs Field to wet her bed, saying they didn’t have time to take her to the bathroom or bring a bedpan.
Mrs Charlton’s husband Tony, 63, said: “You would have thought someone at the hospital would have recognised the symptoms, but there was a failure of procedure and it wasn’t noted.”
John Gosal is planning to sue Maidstone Hospital for a catalogue of errors which he says led to the death of his mother from C.diff.
Ranjit Gosal, 71, who was being treated for ovarian cancer, caught the bug in May last year and died the following June after what her son describes as “shambolic” treatment, including doctors prescribing antibiotics that made her condition worse.
Mr Gosal said: “The conditions in Maidstone Hospital were appalling. There was dust everywhere and it smelled. One patient who had diarrhoea was on the ward with just a curtain separating her from the other patients.
“Though the hospital was in the middle of the outbreak, they didn’t check my mother had C.diff and it was only diagnosed after she died.”
The 87-year-old Dunkirk veteran died a wretched death last July after catching C.diff at Maidstone Hospital.
His daughter Jackie said the former officer with the Metropolitan Police was appalled by the conditions at the hospital where “hour by hour his soul was being stripped”.
Mr Nixon, who caught the superbug after a bowel operation, asked his daughter: “What have I done to deserve being trapped in this awful place?”
Mrs Nixon, who took her father home to die, said there was little the nurses could do because the wards were so chronically understaffed.
“I ended up having to change my father’s bed for him the whole time because otherwise he would be left lying in his own soiled sheets for three to four hours at a time,” she said. “Keeping hospitals clean is basic. But there aren’t enough nurses to do it properly.”
After being given chemotherapy at Maidstone Hospital for a tumour under her arm, Doreen Ford, 77, a retired civil servant, was told she did not have to go back to the hospital for six months.
But Mrs Ford had been given a blood transfusion as part of her treatment, during which she contracted C.diff. She died five weeks later, in October last year. Her family was unaware she had the superbug until they saw it on her death certificate.
Her stepson Steve Stroud, 55, said: “When we asked the hospital about the C.diff she had contracted there was a bit of a silence there.
“They didn’t seem to want to talk about it. We had to have our house fumigated to kill off the C.diff spores which can last for six months, but we were told the disinfectant which was used in our house is 100 per cent effective, so we wanted to know why the hospital wasn’t using the same chemicals. They wouldn’t answer.”
Mr Stroud’s wife, the former Bucks Fizz singer, Cheryl Baker, later called for Maidstone Hospital to stop admitting patients likely to be vulnerable to the C.diff bug.
Having broken her hip in a fall, Mary Hirst, 83, was told by doctors at Maidstone Hospital that she would be home in a week.
But shortly before she was due to be discharged she began suffering from diarrhoea, and seven weeks later, on May 24 last year, she died, having contracted C.diff and MRSA.
Her daughter, Jackie Stewart, said: “She used to be fighting fit. She looked after a three-bedroom semi, did the gardening and hadn’t seen a doctor in years.
“Everything was going well, the hip was fixing, then four days after her operation to mend her hip we were told she had diarrhoea. As far as we knew that’s all she had. We were not told that she had C.diff.
“She was left in her own soiled sheets and was sobbing because nobody had cleaned her up. Her treatment was appalling. She was not being fed properly, not being cleaned, and there was only one commode between six patients. She didn’t die of a broken hip, she died of hospital neglect.”
Mrs Stewart said she was considering suing Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust. She said she was “not surprised” by the Healthcare Commission’s revelation of so many deaths from C.diff.
“They seemed to be taking bodies away every five minutes,” she said.
Every single case that has been highlighted in this story involves an elderly patient, and it is almost as if the staff at these hospitals were deliberately not caring for these elderly patients. I would not like to think that this was true, but it seems that there is a pattern to this neglect. Leaving patients in soiled sheets is downright disgusting. Refusing to take them to the toilet is an abuse of the elderly patient. The staff at these hospitals have been behaving in a very abusive way towards elderly patients. They try to hide behind the mask of not having enough staff to cope on the wards. Does the buck stop with the hospital? Does it go further and implicate a lack of proper government funding? Or is it pointing to the flaw of having a totally public hospital system that relies upon government funding, where there is not enough funds being allocated in the right way so that elderly patients receive the correct form of care? Or is it a case of hiring third world staff who do not know enough about personal hygiene, thus risking the lives of patients who are being admitted to hospital wards that are being kept in third world conditions?