The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation
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NHS Scotland - Bad/Ageist Experience

My mother-in-law who was in her 80's started coughing up blood in December 2011. Her GP arranged an X-Ray, which took over 6 weeks before the result was available. We were told her lungs were clear, no cancer, she had bronchiolitis. She was prescribed an antibiotic. The bleeding stopped after about 6 weeks. Due to the diagnosis we were lulled into a false sense of security.

In March 2012 the coughing up of blood re-commenced and continued unabated for weeks. She was also experiencing bad pains in her neck and feeling generally unwell. We asked for a GP visit. The surgery was resistant so we said that we would therefore have to call in G Docs. This consequently elicited a GP visit. The GP sounded her chest and felt her lymph glands etc. He declined to look at any of the blood specimens, which my mother-in-law had been coughing up, about every 20 minutes. He then said he was not too concerned and would not admit her to hospital, but would refer her to the hospital chest unit which could take at least 2 weeks.

About a week later with the pain in her neck worsening and her feeling more unwell, we decided due to the prior poor experience, to bypass her GP and take her directly to Accident and Emergency. A&E eventually gave her another X-Ray and pronounced that she had pneumonia with a fever. We had arrived at about 6pm and she had to endure a wait of 7 hours before they admitted her to a bed on a general clearing ward. We were not impressed by the general lack luster A&E experience.

The next morning she was seen by a chest consultant who did not want to accept her onto his ward. He recommended transferal to a general/geriatric ward. When I quizzed him about her care plan he became very defensive and said that he was 90% certain she did not have cancer. When I requested that she should be taken to a respiratory ward and have a CT scan, he got annoyed and accused me of displaying the demeanor that was in fact coming from him. He then made an an overt ageist comment which clearly indicated that my m-i-l was expendable. It was truly disgusting.

Due to our intervention she was then subsequently admitted to the respiratory ward and given a CT scan the same day. That evening a very junior doctor came to her bedside and somewhat bluntly and explicitly told her and the family that there was no hope and nothing could be done. Despite two 'clear x-rays' she had stage IV cancer in both lungs, her rib cage, the lymph glands in her neck, her liver, adrenal glands, and possibly her brain. We never saw the first consultant again.

We met with a different consultant the next day, who was very guarded, possibly from chatting with his colleague. He said that he needed a nurse present to witness our discussion, and that it was to be recorded. I would add that we are educated and civil people who had conducted ourselves with decorum from the point of admission.

Radiotherapy was to be given as a palliative. We asked if this would be beneficial and not painful or debilitating. We were assured that this would be so.

On the day she was given the radiotherapy my m-i-l was transferred to another nurse led hospital unit where it was difficult to even spot or interact with a doctor.

She went down very rapidly virtually immediately after the radiotherapy and became almost uncommunicative. Perhaps we should have refused it.

Despite being told otherwise by the first consultant, we found out later that she had never actually been taken over by the respiratory unit, she had only been 'boarded'. We later deduced that due to 'statistics' these specialist units do not want a death on their stats. It seems that if someone dies within a certain period from the date of admission to a unit, it goes on the stats, so patients are trundled around to avoid this.

Although the family had power of attorney for health in place it was extremely difficult to get the staff to deal with the family rather than the patient. This was a patient who scored only 2 out of 10 in a memory test they had given just after admission. It was also a patient who they believed had a secondary cancer in the brain. Ensuring good quality pain management also proved difficult in the final days, which led to friction on occasion. One nurse in particular insisted on only asking my m-i-l who had extreme difficulty comprehending and communicating whether she needed pain relief.

There were some nurses and auxiliary staff who were a credit to their profession. It was a great pity that some of the other medical and nursing staff were not.

All in all it was a worrying and fairly traumatic experience for the whole family, which led to a loss of faith in the NHS. Unfortunately the above is just a brief summary, and not a one off example. We had gone through similar experiences with other family members in the previous three years.

I am experiencing worryingly unresolved respiratory problems myself at the moment. My fears are probably exacerbated because of the above, and some of the negative tales on this site.

I have the feeling that health care for some is akin to turning left into first class when boarding a plane, whilst others end up in economy, and in the worst case scenario are bumped and not even permitted to fly.

I wonder which direction our politicians, aristocrats and the general great and good turn, when they board a plane?

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