Readers’ letters from the March 24 issue of the Observer.

MARINA HICKS writes about ‘dreadful aftercare’ on Middleton Ward, St Richard’s, following a hip replacement.

I was in that ward in January. I’m amazed! When I left, I wrote to thank the staff for their help and hard work; now, I’m writing to express my thanks publicly, which is what, from my point of view, they deserve.

My diary reminds me of the long working day of the staff, and the energy required for their ceaseless movement between the patients and from one part of the ward to the other.

Virtually, the only times when we felt without help were at ‘handover’ when one team was reporting to another.

Care was meticulous – the administration of the pills, the teamwork (sharing the load), the nightly presence; and the discipline of patience amazed me: we had one or two people who panicked and would ring their bell over and over again; time and time again, one of the staff would cross the ward to comfort and relieve them, gently encouraging, always forgiving.

Sheets were changed frequently; as to bedpans – sometimes the staff would be preoccupied elsewhere, but never apparently negligent; and once, one of them apologised to us for her absence, explaining that whereas we had undergone an operation, next door were patients much more ill than us; we nodded our heads and quite understood!

And they greeted us cheerily, busy as they were.

When I asked for ‘a sip of milk’, half a glass was poured out for me, trying to tempt my appetite: an example of the generosity of all the carers there.

Physiotherapists were at the ready, and occupational, and doctors came round…

My thank-you card was a poor token – perhaps my best effort was to tell one nurse I thought she deserved to earn double her salary! (We laughed).

I chose to go to my GP to have the clips removed, being simpler than to return to the hospital. This was done immediately I asked.

Like your correspondent, I dread a return to hospital.

But this is due to my experience of callousness and inefficiency in the administration.

Future patients, beware of that!

But have no fear of Middleton Ward!

Charlotte Evans, Little Breach, Chichester

I WAS very concerned to read the criticism of our community nurses.

They have been visiting me daily for two years now.

The visits were implemented by St Richard’s Hospital on my discharge, and, despite some bad weather, the nurses have never missed a visit.

I am sorry that your writer had this bad experience, and hope that she is feeling better now.

I know now just how busy our small team of nurses are – they cover East Wittering, Selsey and surrounding areas and I can’t praise them highly enough.

Maureen Cornish, Peerley Road, East Wittering

WHAT an incredible person Marina Hicks must be.

Like her, my wife has recently had a hip operation at St Richard’s and recovered in Middleton Ward.

What a transformation!

Attentive nurses, bed linen changed daily, regular cleaning, excellent physiotherapy, decent meals with plenty of choice.

If one rant from Marina Hicks can transform Middleton Ward just think of the possibilities.

One week and St Richard’s is superb, a month and the West Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust renewed and in a year the whole NHS transformed.

Who needs Andrew Lansley and Simon Burns?

Roger Bannister, Pears Grove, Prinsted

I HAVE just been discharged from St Richard’s Hospital having spent 12 days in their care.

While Marina Hicks makes a fair comment regarding the response to the call button, I feel she does not understand the underlying problem which is not caused by the nursing staff – it is simply a question of under-resourcing.

I was in Wittering Ward which consists of three bays and six single rooms and the ward sister said to me one night she had just two staff on duty and there should have been seven.

The ward bays were mixed ages but not mixed sex.

The clinical staff have to do some things at precise times such as observations and measurements, dispensing of drugs and turning of patients to prevent bed sores.

Because of these requirements they cannot keep popping back to the nurses’ station to see whose lights are flashing.

They were constantly changing soiled sheets but, unfortunately, giving out and removing bedpans took some time.

I accept that being left sitting on a soiled bedpan for 20 minutes is a horrible, uncomfortable and lonely experience.

It happened to me a couple of times, especially when you can do nothing yourself to rectify the situation, but until an adequate number of staff are on duty at any one time I can see the problem continuing.

I have to add that apart from the above I cannot praise the clinical staff enough.

The nurses were professional and compassionate. The elderly were given special attention.

Having heard terrible tales of the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, and of those in South London where the staff do the minimum required, I feel we are very lucky to have St Richard’s.

Bob Kerby, Blackboy Lane, Fishbourne

I CONCUR entirely with Marina Hicks’ experience on Middleton Ward after a hip replacement.

I had a successful hip replacement at the age of 80 last October and had the unfortunate experience of being in the ward over a weekend.

I had never been in hospital before or had an epidural anaesthetic despite informing the ward staff of these facts I expected to be briefed as to what to expect.

Nothing resulted other than to be asked repeatedly for my birth date – not my name – presumably to identify myself when it transpired that I was over 80.

I found myself in the bed where the call button didn’t work and was tucked away in a corner next to a door from a corridor – this door crashed shut at all hours.

At 80, after hip surgery, one is in effect in a straitjacket but nobody ever checked that I was able to deal with food or drink or any other needs.

But being of the old school I believe in ‘God helps those who help themselves’ and it is quite remarkable what can be done with a pair of crutches.

Requests for a bedpan or commode were ignored, causing a lot of embarrassment for me. However, the staff dealt with resulting problems without complaint.

It is obvious that the staff are working to protocols and under time constraints, but I would have thought that there would be provision for some humanity to be shown to patients.

As Marina said, she hopes she never has to go into hospital again, so do I...

Alan Swan, Boleyn Drive, Pagham

MY OWN experience of care, both in St Richard’s Hospital, Chilgrove and Birdham Wards was brilliant.

I was admitted to hospital last October and had a major operation for cancer.

I am a pensioner, and could not have received better care.

The staff in both wards – doctors, surgeons, nurses, everyone – were fantastic.

They were all very caring people and cheerful – happy to do anything they could to make you feel comfortable and cared for.

On leaving hospital I received aftercare from the Community Nurses on a daily basis for nearly two months.

Everyone of them was wonderful.

Caring, gentle and very reassuring.

I am sorry Ms Hicks did not receive the care she expected, but please do not accept her experience as the ‘norm’.

My whole experience of the NHS care was fantastic, and I shall always be grateful to all the staff I met.

Angela Slade, Fishbourne Road West, Chichester

I ALSO have recently had a hip replacement at St Richard’s Hospital and cannot fault the aftercare I received on Middleton Ward.

The nursing staff were brilliant, the bedding changed and the ward cleaned daily. I also found the physios very helpful.

If I had a complaint at all it would have been the meals – but they were adequate.

Joyce Croucher, Bognor Regis

I READ with horror the letter from Marina Hicks.

It was as if someone had written my exact experience from a year-and-a-half ago – same operation, same ‘aftercare’, and same ward.

I had my hip replacement on November 5, 2009, and was discharged six days later.

I was so traumatised by what happened to me on that ward that I am terrified of ever having to go into hospital again.

The following February I wrote a three-page letter to St Richard’s outlining the horrendous time I had experienced.

I echo all of Ms Hicks’ complaints about lack of hygiene, hours spent in soiled and wet bedclothes, being left on numerous occasions with only a towel to protect any dignity I had left as cleaners and visitors passed by my bed.

Despite daily pleas to clean my teeth, I was reduced to using my drinks mug as I was unable to leave my bed to get to the bathroom.

I was brought soup but with only a knife with which to eat it – when the nurse asked why I hadn’t eaten the soup and I explained that it was difficult without a spoon, she just laughed and took the soup away.

I had to ask visitors to go and buy me a sandwich from the local supermarket.

Ringing the bell for assistance was like a war of attrition between patients and staff – it seemed the more you rang the bell, the more you were ignored.

I had to rally the group of mostly elderly ladies on the ward to all shout ‘HELP’ at the same time in order to get anyone to appear to aid us.

I was offered prescription tablets on the first night that were in the locker next to me – that had been left there by the previous occupant of my bed (goodness knows what they were and what would have happened had I swallowed them).

Thank goodness I was sufficiently aware to realise, as I was still groggy from the operation’s anaesthetic at the time.

I was supposed to be administered pain relief at two-hour intervals, but only received it three times in a 24-hour period and would lie there crying with pain, only to be ignored until I begged for someone to give me the painkillers.

I was discharged with a urinary infection from the lack of hygiene and a leaflet with some diagrams of exercises I should do.

I live alone and was left to look after myself from then on. Nobody contacted me to see if I was managing. I was offered no follow-up or physio. After fighting for help, I eventually managed to get some physio a full four months after discharge, by which time my muscles were very weak and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.

I felt as if I had been completely invisible and had to fight for everything from basic care and attention to aftercare.

As a result of my letter of complaint to St Richard’s, I was invited in May, 2010, to go for a meeting to talk about my experiences.

I felt I was finally being listened to and was given assurances that all the points I had raised had been dealt with, they apologised to me and agreed that the care I had received was below standard.

I was even asked to come to a Nursing Study day to talk about my experiences as this would have an impact and result in a consequent improvement in care of patients.

I readily agreed to do this, as I was concerned that nobody else should be treated with such lack of dignity.

That was nearly a year ago, and I’m still waiting for them to make good this offer, so yet again I feel let down and the failings in the system have still not been addressed.

I am fortunate enough to be able to write letters, make phone calls and generally assert myself and express my opinion of the level of treatment I received – how more elderly/frail people cope with the same level of care (or lack of it) I do not know.

Obviously, after reading Ms Hicks’ letter, the only conclusion I can come to is that absolutely nothing has changed in Middleton Ward since my stay 17 months ago.

Not so much a joke, more like a nightmare…..

Sue Long, Hunnisett Close, Selsey

JIM MCCULLOCH in his March 10 letter about the census, asks ‘Do we really want the EU to monitor our social cohesion particularly at regional level?’

The EU will only receive anonymised data so individuals in England and Wales won’t be monitored as he suggests.

The EU Census Regulation is about the obligation of members states to provide Eurostat with a set of statistical tabulations (by the end of March, 2014) on a range of topics covered by the 2011 round of European censuses (or equivalent surveys or data sources for those countries that don’t take a traditional census).

All such aggregated, anonymous statistics provided to Eurostat in this way will be subject to the same strict statistical disclosure controls that apply to all domestic outputs and will not disclose any information about an identifiable individual or household.

On the other hand, the data obtained by the census will be used in the UK by a wide range of organisations including local and national government, the NHS, the Fire Brigade and businesses to identify the local and regional needs of our communities.

The information is used to plan and prioritise a wide range of services such as schools, roads and hospitals.

Even decisions where to locate facilities like shops and leisure facilities are made using statistics derived from the information which we provide when we complete our census questionnaires.

John Heaton, Census Area Manager for Arun, Chichester and Horsham

IN YOUR recent report on thefts of beehives, I commented on the possibility that such thefts may be carried out by private and commercial beekeepers.

It has been pointed out to me by the leading commercial beekeeper in the county that such a generalised statement is not based on fact and on reflection, I have to agree with him.

Could I, through your pages, apologise for careless wording and for implying any (unintended) slur on any individual or well-respected commercial beekeeper?

Apologies again, to all beekeepers of all categories.

John Stevens, President, Chichester Beekeepers

WE WILL soon be asked to vote in a referendum that only one part of the Coalition Government wants – that’s the LibDems.

We will be asked if we would like Alternative Vote instead of First Past the Post.

In case your readers are not aware, the entire scheme of different voting systems was made up by Roy Jenkins – a former LibDem MP. It is intended that (1) either Coalition Govt continues, or (2) LibDems become the government. How will this work?

A Tory voter will not want Labour to get their second vote so will vote for LibDem; a Labour voter will not want the Tories to get their vote so will vote LibDem.

LibDems will want the vote for themselves and will, therefore, not put anything except ‘First’ leaving the rest blank.

Amid the stupidity this makes sense.

James McCulloch, Newlands Lane, Chichester

I SUGGEST anyone caught short after the closure of the East Pallant conveniences should, as a matter of compassionate anatomical urgency, seek relief at the fortuitously close council offices.

Mildred Cairn, Chilgrove

READING THE increasingly desperate campaigning by the Observer for the Chichester Christmas lights I note that although the Observer is exhorting businesses and individuals to donate to the cause, it has yet to make a substantial donation itself.

By substantial I don’t mean a few tens or hundreds of pounds, but the £15,000 that the council would have to raise in matching funding were the Observer’s misguided campaign to be successful. The Observer alone seems to think that a second Christmas without lights would make the city a ‘laughing stock’. As was proved by last years’ response to your appeal the majority of people disagreed. I wonder how they would feel in the event of your efforts landing the taxpayers with an unwanted bill for an unneeded extravagance? I doubt if they’d be laughing.

Paul Cresswell, Old Bosham