"My mother's last days in Wheal Agar ward"

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

(as a relative),

After 5 misdiagnoses from my mother's GP surgery, my mother finally collapsed at home and was taken to hospital. On the second day at hospital she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the time we were told that an oncologist or consultant would see us as a family. This never happened. Two days in and my mother was taken to the geriatric ward, Wheal Agar.

Wheal Agar is a dark, hot ward in the bowels of the building, lacking in natural light. As we entered we heard the cries of dying people, the singing of the nurses and the smell of human excrement. This sensory experience did not change for the four days my mother was alive here. My sister said it reminded her of a third world hospital ward.

Sometimes it took ages to enter as when you pressed the buzzer, staff didn't come. I noticed other visitors helping each other out instead. We witnessed a shocking lack of dignity for my mother and other patients. We saw different nurses every day. Some didn't know how to move the bed, or change the drip, which resulted in mother's blood shooting out onto the grimy floor. Food was left on my mother's face after a small meal. She developed ulcers on her tongue and mouth but nobody seemed to notice. I don't believe my mother was washed until the morning of her death. I cleaned her limbs and face regularly.

The young doctor in charge of the ward flared red in the neck and started to cry when we asked why nothing was being done to relieve mother's pain and suffering. This astonished me and made me think that this doctor must have been very inexperienced. Thereafter, mother received some pain relief, but it seemed that an action plan of palliative care had not even been thought about. On one occasion, mother was moved into a different room without our knowledge. We found out on arrival. Clearly her level of distress was upsetting the other patients.

A senior nurse was sent in by the young doctor in charge to discuss our request of taking mother home to die, which then descended into what we found to be an unprofessional argument. This was the first time we had even seen this senior nurse, despite the fact that we visited every day. At no point during the whole experience did a doctor, consultant or nurse find us to speak to us about mother. We had to seek them out for information or to inform them of mother's or even other patient's distress. We did not get the opportunity to remove mother from this ghastly place, she died here on the sixth morning at hospital. The senior nurse was seemingly triumphant in telling me and almost tried to physically stop me from seeing my own mother, but I already knew and I went in.

I am horrified that my mother went through this. I was expecting a programme of medical care but this was entirely absent. I have discussed what happened with my GP who has recommended I complain formally, but it is clear that the current system is in favour of the medical profession not the patient or family aggrieved.

This ward was closed in 2012 but clearly reopened again and is running the same as usual. Even though I am Cornish and have an occupation here, this heartbreaking and grotesque experience had led me to think about leaving the county completely.

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Response from Lana-Lee Jackson, Patient Experience Manager, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust

We are very concerned to read your story about your mother’s last days in Wheal Agar ward. We would be grateful for an opportunity to meet you, hear your concerns directly and understand more about your experience.

My name is Lana-Lee Jackson, Patient Experience Manager at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust and you can email me at: pals.service@rcht.cornwall.nhs.uk

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