"My mother's final days alive at Treliske Hospital"

About: Royal Cornwall Hospital (Treliske) / Older people's healthcare

(as a relative),

My mother was admitted to Treliske Hospital after collapsing at home on a Thursday. Initially placed in an admissions ward she was treated well and advanced cancer was diagnosed within a couple of days. However, as the weekend came the availability of doctors to discuss the prognosis with us seemed to dry up rapidly.

She was then moved to Wheal Agar ward where things really deteriorated. We went with her as she was moved and the sense of foreboding was palpable as we went down through a lift and through corridors that got progressively darker with less and less natural light.

The admissions ward had been light, airy and well staffed. Wheal Agar seemed dark, stiflingly hot with much fewer staff. With locks on the doors it felt very much like a basement where people are put to die. My mother was very distressed in there and was desperate to get home, as we were desperate to get her home, realising by now that her condition was terminal.

I don't believe she was maltreated by the staff but some were clearly more capable and caring than others and my biggest complaint is that the staff and particularly the doctors didn't work effectively with the family to get an appropriate end of life plan in action.

At no time were we ever approached or telephoned by a doctor at the hospital to tell us about the prognosis or to discuss the options. When we asked to talk to a ward doctor, initially we were made to wait for a long time. We made clear our desire to get Mother home as she did not wish to die in hospital, but the doctor wished to stabilise her condition before they would release her. I can understand this to an extent but there seemed to be a lack of understanding by the doctor that things were deteriorating rapidly and we needed to get her home quickly. A nurse made a far more accurate prognosis of death likely within days than the doctor seemed capable of.

There are posters around the place declaring their commitment to the dignity of elderly people but I don't think they understand that dignity is not just about drawing curtains around people when they use a bedpan. It is also about treating people as individuals and working with families to respect their wishes and beliefs. I believe they should have been far more proactive about this. We visited our mother twice daily when she was there, following the regulated visiting times. Our pressure to get her released home became more insistent day by day, but by the Tuesday it was clear that Mother has taken a very bad turn for the worse, and it was clearly too late to get her home.

She died the following morning after we spent a night by her bedside. She seemed to us to suffer a horrible end as her lungs slowly filled with fluid, but she was heavily sedated so we'll never know the extent to which she suffered. Death from cancer is never peaceful I suppose and I do believe many staff at the ward did what they could with insufficient funding and equipment but I do believe that my Mother's distress at being in that ward contributed to her death so soon after being admitted and it will haunt me for the rest of my life that we weren't able to get her home to die where she wanted to be.

The hospital should work much more with relatives, be more proactive and move faster when a poor outcome is highly likely.

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