"Not a dignified death"

About: Whipps Cross University Hospital / Older people's healthcare

(as a relative),

My father (who had dementia) was admitted to the hospital with abdominal pains. After a week or so of tests, he was diagnosed with a burst ulcer in his stomach which had caused an abscess. We were informed that he was going to die. We asked that he should be kept comfortable and out of pain as he had suffered enough.

We were later advised, by a very kind doctor, that the abscess needed draining to help with the discomfort and pain. This we agreed to.

A few days later an on-call weekend doctor made a remark as he passed my father and a cross was marked on his medical chart. Unfortunately, I did not check what this meant.

Within days everything seemed to change and there was confusion about his IV fluids. One day we were told that his needle had been removed as he kept pulling it out and it was distressing him. (He had, however, been doing this since he was admitted, due to his dementia.)

There was no proper discussion with our family about his care plan, at this stage, or about the cessation of his IV fluids and the devastating, horrific effect it would have on him. I believe that medical staff have a duty to inform and discuss any alternatives that may be possible.

Within days he had deteriorated so rapidly that we hardly recognised the body lying in his bed. His skin had sunk into his face and body, his body had become rigid and his muscles had hardened. He was so frightened and distressed and we felt so helpless. He was trying to communicate but couldn’t because of his dementia.

After two days of watching him in such torment, we could bear it no longer and asked for his medication to be increased. This was the last time he was conscious. It took two weeks for him to die. My mother cannot erase those distressing images of my father and is living in a nightmare.

Accepting someone is dying is one thing, accepting unnecessary suffering is quite another.

I witnessed my father effectively starving to death and we are left to cope with the memories of such a horrific death.

We dealt with some of the most dedicated, caring doctors and nurses (a credit to their profession and the hospital) but also some that seemed hard and cruel.

In my opinion, PALS smoothed the waters and made the right noises to calm the situation but did not truly deal with the complaint.

We filed an official complaint and the BMC have since contacted us and assured us that the weekend doctor has nothing to answer to. Following many phone calls and letters, a meeting has now been arranged for my mother at the hospital and I hope that we may finally get the answers we need; there is no closure without answers.

We wished we'd questioned things more, but when you are watching a loved one dying your emotional state stops you thinking rationally.

I think that medical professionals would benefit from always considering how they would want to be treated in the same position . My father was elderly, helpless and vulnerable and he did not receive the care he deserved.

Do you have a similar story to tell? Tell your story & make a difference ››