Anyway, here’s the letter we’re using for the complaint to the hospital (I’ve been told not to put the name of the hospital, just in case they are checking the internet for complaints or something) If you’ve been paying attention, you will know which hospital it is…
Following my verbal complaint at my discharge on 17 June 2010, I am putting my concerns in writing so as to be clear about the matters I believe need attention and/or investigation.
1. Lack of information to family members in ICU
My family was unhappy with the amount of communication during my stay in ICU. Some nurses would come along and do things but not tell my family what they were doing or why. My parents received next to no information about what had happened to me or what my prognosis was. In one instance, my mother was treated to an inappropriate lecture about hospital pay instead of getting an update on my condition. They were not encouraged to ask questions and generally felt uncomfortable approaching some of the staff. The consultant was never available and my family ended up having to book time with him several days in advance just to be able to speak to him. They (and I) feel more should have been done to make sure they understood what was happening.
2. Problems with ward management
After I left ICU, I was moved twice within two days which was very unsettling. It seems that no one knew quite where to put me, so the first ward I went to proved to be unsuitable, and in the ANU I was with people who were pre-surgery while I was recovering. Maybe there isn’t really a suitable ward for my situation, but I would have thought it made more sense for me to be with other people who are recovering from surgery (oppose to a medical ward). I also did not receive any sort of ward orientation and was not advised until several days into my stay that I was permitted to leave the ward.
One particular problem with my ward was another patient who needed constant care and attention and didn’t receive it from the staff. As a patient, I should not have to look after other patients, but I felt obligated to help as the patient next to me was constantly trying to get out of bed (risking a fall), trying to pull his tubes out, and asking me ‘when are we going?’ On most days, I had to call the nurse to deal with him several times, sometimes every five minutes, to stop him from hurting himself. I found this very stressful and certainly not what I needed with my already high blood pressure.
3. Missing medication
The most serious complaint I have about my time at the hospital is that I was not given my medication, though it was signed off in the chart that I’d received it. On 16th June the chart was signed in the morning, but I am certain I did not have the pills. There was one pill that was very bitter, and I have to be awake to take it, so I am absolutely positive it was not given that day. I am also certain that there were other days I did not get my pills. On the afternoon of 16th June, I told a nurse I hadn’t had my medication. She looked at my chart, saw that it had been initialled, and dismissed my allegation with no further investigation. The ward sister was told, seemed unconcerned, and did nothing. When the night nurse came on shift, I also told him I hadn’t received my medication, and fortunately he believed me. He opened the medication box and found that my blood pressure medication pill packet was empty. This begs the question, how many doses did I miss? Why did the morning nurse sign that I had my medication when I didn’t? Why didn’t the person who used the last pill arrange for more to be sent from the pharmacy? Why didn’t the afternoon nurse and ward manager investigate my allegation immediately? If they dismissed my allegation because they thought I was having memory problems (which I wasn’t), why didn’t they do something to prove to me that I was wrong (which, as it turns out, I wasn’t)? Without those tablets, I was at serious risk of a relapse. I am thoroughly disgusted that whilst I was at a vulnerable point in my recovery, the hospital’s medication management procedures allowed me to go for days without essential medication. This is serious medical negligence and I will expect to be informed of the disciplinary proceedings that surely will arise from this matter.
4. Lack of care/attention to special patient needs
I have a serious needle phobia which I made everyone aware of. When I’ve had hospital treatment for other conditions (including an operation needing anaesthetic), they were very accommodating as far as helping with alternatives to injections (i.e. using gas to put me to sleep before any IV was started). It was written in my chart that I am terrified of needles and should be approached with care. Until I was well enough to protest, I was given heparin injections in my stomach. I was told this was very important to prevent blood clots, but when I said I didn’t want injections this was taken as though I’d said I didn’t want treatment. I was willing to take alternative treatments, but as discussed below, my doctor was never available to ask about possible alternatives.
5. Lack of communication and attention by the doctor in charge of my case
After leaving ICU on 07/06/2010, I only saw my doctor once. The other patients on my ward saw their doctors on a daily basis and were told what was happening with their care. On the one occasion a doctor did see me, I still wasn’t told what was happening. After social services assessed me as fit to go home, I had to wait for 3 days to be discharged, ultimately by a different doctor because mine was never available. When I complained about this after my discharge, my doctor who we (me and my mum) had never seen admitted he hadn’t even realised I was still in hospital; he said he thought I’d self-discharged. Then he stated he had been ‘following’ my case, but had no answer when I asked how that was possible when he didn’t even know where I was. Basically, for three days I was taking up a bed that someone else could have used because my doctor didn’t know where I was and the ward staff didn’t seem to be able to communicate this to him, despite the fact that he was in the same building. I had been left in the ward to hopefully get better.
6. Lack of respect for patients and their visitors
Visiting hours on my ward were restricted to 2.5 hours per day, and that time is very precious for patients and their visitors. On one occasion whilst my mother was visiting, a nurse interrupted us and insisted that I put on a nebuliser mask. The nebuliser mask makes it impossible to speak to your loved ones, and there was no particular reason it had to be done at that exact time. It was very rude, and for the sake of an hour this nurse could have waited until visiting hours were over.
Additionally, I felt ignored most of the time I spent on the ward. The nurses were friendly to the other patients and addressed all of them by name, but for some reason I was left out. Perhaps it was the fact that no one seemed to know why I was there or what was supposed to be happening with my care due to my doctor forgetting about me. I was quite surprised when I was told by one nurse that she didn’t even know what had happened to me. I thought that was essential bit of information when a nurse is going to be caring for a patient.
In summary, the time I spent at the hospital was very disappointing for me and my family. The overall lack of communication meant I stayed in hospital much longer than I should have and that caused a lot of distress. With all the people that were supposedly contacting the doctor on my behalf (PALS, the ward manager, nursing staff), I do not understand how my doctor could ‘forget’ his patient is languishing on a ward. I have huge concerns over how medications are managed and I am appalled that when I brought the matter of my missing medication to the nurse’s and ward manager’s attention, I was not taken seriously. For a more non-communicative patient, mistakes like that could be a matter of life or death. I certainly feel safer out of that ward where I know that my medication is my responsibility and I do not have to depend on negligent medical professionals to get what I need.
I do expect a thorough investigation of these issues, particularly with regard to the missing medication and my doctor’s neglect of my case. I look forward to hearing what steps you will be taking to ensure my experiences are not repeated with other patients.