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"We were not able to visit my elderly mother"

About: Mater Hospital / Accident & Emergency

(as a carer),

My mother is in her 90s and had previously been diagnosed as being in heart failure. At the beginning of September, her GP advised her that she needed to go into hospital, the GP phoned an ambulance to bring mum to the Royal.  However, the ambulance brought mum to the Mater A &E.  I wasn't allowed to accompany mum nor allowed to visit.  On the previous visit to the Royal I stayed with mum until she was admitted to a ward and also permitted to visit each day as mum becomes extremely anxious, which is documented in her notes.  

I went to the Ward on the Saturday,  but was told that it was a Covid ward though she was non covid, so I  wasn't  allowed to visit.  I was also told mum wasn't  permitted out of bed, even to sit on a chair until she was risk assessed which wouldn't  be until Mon when the physio was back on duty.  I explained that, although mum used a Zimmer for support, she was up and about every day.  The nurse apologised  but there was nothing they could do.

On Sunday,  my brother, who had flown over to see mum, pleaded to see her,  was brought in and waved to mum through a window.   He said there were 6 elderly people in the ward.  I phoned later on and got through to the patient line, as nobody was answering the phone in the ward, and requested that a Doctor contact me to let me know what was going on with mum.

On Monday,  I  phoned the ward and was told mum wasn't  going home that day, she had pulled the cannula out and was agitated.  Still, I  wouldn't  be allowed to visit to reassure her.  I knew she would be in a state so I  went over to the Mater but again wasn't  allowed in.  I left very upset.  I then phoned asking for the Consultant to phone me as they were the person making the decisions about mum.  That was approx 11am.  

I waited until 3pm and no call so I phoned mum's mobile repeatedly,  I knew she wouldn't hear it  and eventually a member of staff did.  When I  asked to speak to mum I  was told she didn't  want to speak to me.  I knew then she was extremely distressed. I, by this stage was overwrought  and said I  was coming to take her home.  When myself and my sister arrived the Consultant  spoke to us.  The Consultant said mum had been sedated as she had become extremely agitated & confirmed we could take her home. 

When she was brought out in a wheelchair she was grey and making noises, she was unable to speak. She looked like she was dying.  With the help of the porter we got her into the car, and my sister and I  then  carried mum from the car into the house.  The following  morning,  Tues, mum had recovered sufficiently to get up and have breakfast.  She said she wouldn't  go back into hospital. For a few days at least she was up and about and enjoying her meals before she deteriorated and sadly passed away the following Tuesday night with her family with her.

It still upsets me that for those 4 days mum was frightened and alone. Why are non covid patients being treated in the Mater?  My mum was in a Covid Ward along with 5 other elderly people,   can you tell me that staff , Drs, nurses, domestic staff were confined to the non covid patients or were they going between the covid and noncovid patients?

The meal trolley was brought in on one of the occasions I  was standing out in the corridor, the staff giving out those meals, were they serving everyone,  were those staff covid free, are they all vaccinated? I am double vaccinated as was my mother. If I  had left my mum there she would have died of a broken heart  and I  couldn't  have lived with myself.  

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Response from Bernie Carey, Service Manager, Mater Hospital, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust last month
Bernie Carey
Service Manager, Mater Hospital,
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
Submitted on 29/11/2021 at 19:22
Published on Care Opinion on 30/11/2021 at 09:39

Dear Maureeni52

Firstly, please let me extend my deepest and sincere sympathy to you, your sister, your brother and all of your extended family, on the death of your much loved Mother. As I read your post, I place myself in your shoes, a daughter myself of an elderly mother and I am deeply saddened.

I am truly sorry for the distress and worry you describe whilst your mother was a patient with us in the Mater Hospital. I would like to take the opportunity to let you know that staff at the Mater Hospital delivering care during these extremely challenging times of Covid empathise and can only imagine how you feel.

I understand totally, that four days of not being able to have physical contact with a very close relative, especially an elderly mother would be like an eternity. We truly understand your heartbreak and for this, we are deeply sorry.

I would like to try to answer the queries you have raised in your letter.

You asked - why are non-Covid patients being treated in the Mater Hospital.

The Mater has currently seven inpatient wards and at the time your Mother was with us in the Mater, we only required three of these wards for Covid patients. Empty beds are always precious and it was important we continued to treat non-Covid patients too when the clinical resources were available to do so.

Across the Belfast Trust the two Emergency Departments are so busy, we need to continue to care for both Covid and non-Covid patients. Your mother, who tested negative for Covid may have been nursed with Covid patients in the same ward but these patients would have been isolated in side rooms and nursed separately from your mother. The elderly women nursed with your Mother would have been Covid Negative too. You have not informed me of the name of the ward to date.

You asked if staff were confined to the non-covid patients or were they going between Covid and non-covid patients.

All disciplines of staff are required to provide care to our patients and in almost all cases, nurses and domestic staff are confined to either Covid or non-Covid patient’s. Mixing of staff is limited where possible. Staff do need to carry out their jobs within the healthcare setting and the Trust is committed to minimising the spread of Covid, please can I assure you of that.

-You asked were the staff serving meals, serving all of the patients on the ward.

As before, all nursing and domestic staff are allocated to either Covid or non-Covid patients where possible. Staff do need to carry out duties within the Healthcare setting and the Trust is committed to minimising the spread of Covid. Staff follow PHA national guidelines on the prevention of infection in Caring for Patients within the healthcare setting

-You asked were the staff serving the meals, Covid free.

I would like to reassure you that all staff employed in the Mater Hospital are asked to test themselves twice weekly for Covid using Lamp testing or lateral flow tests. All staff serving meals wear facemasks and PPE to serve meals safely to Patients. Any staff reporting symptoms or information that they are a close contact of someone who has Covid symptoms are required to stay off work until both tested and to complete a period of isolation, as per Belfast Trust policy. Staff are regularly updated and educated on minimising the spread of infections, including Covid.

-You asked were all the staff serving meals vaccinated.

Regrettably, I am not able to confirm that this is the case. At present, healthcare staff working within the Trust are not legally obligated to be vaccinated against Covid, although this position may change in the future. However, the estimated figure of healthcare staff who have been vaccinated across Northern Ireland is between 80 and 90%.

I hope that my answers go some way in reassuring you.

You tell me about the great difficulty you experienced in making contact with staff on the ward. This too did not help and caused your anxiety to increase. Again, I am sorry. We are trying to improve our communication to relatives by asking staff to call relatives to update them regularly.

Discharging Patients safely home is important to us and I am saddened that your Mother of 90 years had not been offered any assistance from nursing staff. It is important for me to ask staff to learn and improve our patient experience.

You said that your mother was frightened and alone. For me as a ‘Nurse’ Manager this is sad and very concerning. I would like to think especially during these challenging times that my Nurses are caring, friendly, kind and reassuring to our elderly patients. This upsets me and I would like to assure you she was not alone. I would like to call you and perhaps meet with yourself, if you feel this would be helpful for you. It is important we at the Mater listen and learn from your experience so I would be very grateful if you would come back to me.

I would like to assure you that in the Mater, we are always open to learning ways in which we could improve the patient and family experience. I am truly sorry her last days during our care have caused you great turmoil. I want to take forward how we can make it better with my staff. Thank you for sharing with us.

Yours sincerely

Bernie Carey

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Update posted by maureeni52 (a carer)


I appreciate your reply. I do know that the staff in A & E and Ward D did their utmost to attend to mum and the nurse looking after mum did make time for us.

However, decisions are made by others and staff have to deal with the consequences. A doctor had a conversation with mum about a DNR should her heart stop and no matter how caring nurses are, mum wanted and had the right to have the support of her family and that human right was denied to her. I only brought up the issue about Staff and covid as I would have followed their protective procedures if I could have seen mum.

As for lessons learnt, how many times have we heard statements from our hospitals and Trusts with an apology for distress caused and lessons will be learnt. They have had 21 months to put plans in place and mum should not be part of anybody's learning experience.

I am using this forum to tell of my mum's and my experience, not to criticise front line staff but in the hope that if enough patients or their families make public their experience, those in power will actually take decisions to bring about change.

Response from Bernie Carey, Service Manager, Mater Hospital, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust last month
Bernie Carey
Service Manager, Mater Hospital,
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
Submitted on 06/12/2021 at 17:57
Published on Care Opinion on 07/12/2021 at 09:32

Dear Maureen

Please let me apologise for the late response. I have been off on leave last week.

Thank you for coming back to me. I am relieved that you know, staff did their utmost in caring for your Mum and happy to hear staff did make time for you as a family,

Everything you say is right. As I read your response I place myself in your shoes and I can see how I would have felt had it been my own mother. I too would have wanted to be at my mothers side during what was for her a very difficult and probably a very frightening conversation with the doctor.

As Nurses, we have always been our Patients advocate ' their voice' but you are right, close family support was what your Mum needed most at that time and I truly wish we could turn back the clock for you. I can feel we have let you down and I am sincerely sorry for the distress and upset we have caused you.

Thank you for bringing your experience to us and for allowing us to reflect on how families feel during this time of leaving their loved ones in Our care. We want our patients needs to be at the centre of their care. We will relentlessly focus on family involvement at all stages in Our patients journey, prioritising safety off course for all those concerned. Undoubtedly living this pandemic has been extremely difficult for Our patients, Our families and Our frontline staff too as you have kindly pointed out,

Please take care and thanks again.


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Update posted by maureeni52 (a carer)

Bernie, I appreciate your answer. All her life, mum's attitude was, no matter what happened, she put on her makeup and lipstick and faced the world. She never let anything get her down but at the same time she let you know when something wasn't right and I feel I've done her justice now.

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