Whistleblower calls for help for ‘lost voices’ of NHS patients

Shona Oliver's father received poor care in the weeks before his death. Picture: Lesley Martin
Shona Oliver's father received poor care in the weeks before his death. Picture: Lesley Martin
Have your say

A woman whose elderly father was left isolated and in pain at a community hospital during his last days is spearheading a new campaign to fight for the “lost voices” within Scottish health service.

Shona Oliver and her family have fought a two-year battle to get justice for her father Bill, who died at Ellen’s Glen House, in Edinburgh in 2013.

The 82-year-old, who had dementia and was partly deaf, moved to the facility when doctors diagnosed him with advanced stomach cancer. He spent four weeks there, until his death.

Chronic staff shortages meant patients were left wearing soiled clothes or lying in pain after a fall, but despite complaints to NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government, the Oliver family felt their concerns were being ignored.

During one visit, Ms Oliver and her brothers Steven and Gavin, both 56, found their father hanging out of his bed, half-dressed, and crying for help. He was dehydrated and surrounded by mugs of tea and glasses of water that he was too weak to lift.

Ms Oliver, 51, said: “He was shouting at us, ‘Help me, help me, I’m dying. Why won’t someone help me?’

“Those are the last words I ever heard my dad say. My brothers and I will never get that picture of our dad, wide-eyed and distressed, out of our minds.”

Ms Oliver described how she heard vulnerable patients vomiting or choking on their food or shouting out in distress as buzzers went unanswered.

The family found one woman lying in the hall as she had fallen out of bed and crawled to the door to attract attention.

When nursing staff were challenged, many broke down in tears while a senior medic told them staffing levels were “dangerously low”.

NHS Lothian has apologised to the family and pledged to learn from an upcoming review by Health Improvement Scotland.

But the family decided to fight on and have met with leaders at NHS Lothian, and Health Secretary Shona Robison, to get answers.

An adverse incident review last year found that more than £3 million was needed to safely staff all of the In-Patient Complex Care units in Lothian, but no-one was able to say where the money would come from, said Ms Oliver.

She has joined other whistleblowers, clinicians and activists to form ASAP NHS, which is calling for the creation of an independent NHS regulator with full investigatory and disciplinary powers.

The group has claimed that as many as 2,000 unnecessary deaths are taking place within the NHS each year.

Ms Oliver said: “Some of these people had no one to advocate for them. I call them the lost voices. These are the people who have no one to speak up for them.”

Maria Wilson, chief nurse of the Edinburgh Integrated Joint Board, said: “NHS Lothian conducted a wide-ranging independent review … the findings of the investigation and improvement plans have been shared with Ms Oliver and her family. An independent inspection, by Health Improvement Scotland, is now due to be carried out.”

Shona Robison said: “We welcome the review which HIS are undertaking in NHS Lothian which will look at all hospital-based complex clinical care settings.”