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Woman died in hospital 'hell hole'

The daughter of a women who died at a scandal-hit hospital said that her mother's dignity "flew out of the window" when she was admitted to Stafford Hospital.

Denise Harrison's mother died after a combination of illness, a botched operation and contracting a bug at the hospital.

The 50-year-old, from Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire, said that her mother Dorothy Harrison died after spending nine weeks in the "hell hole".

Her mother, a retired office worker from Stafford, was admitted in December 2008 suffering with pain relating to Crohn's Disease.

A scan revealed that parts of her intestine had fused together so medics recommended an operation to rectify it. Ms Harrison was told that her mother's surgery was a success.

Two days later her mother was admitted to the critical care unit after developing pneumonia.

While on the ward she contracted a bug and Ms Harrison was told to "prepare for the worst".

But in late December her mother was taken off her ventilator and transferred to a general ward - ward 7.

"Things just went from bad to worse," said Ms Harrison, who sat at her mother's bedside every day.

"They moved her in the middle of the night and that night she fell out of bed and broke her right arm.

"I rang the critical care unit the next morning and was told that she had been moved to a general ward. When I called the ward they told me she was fine and had a good night."

Ms Harrison said her mother had snapped the bone in her upper arm but had to wait for two days before she was given an x-ray.

She said that the standard of care her mother received on the ward was "appalling".

"There was no dignity, her dignity flew out of the window the moment she went on to that ward," she added.

Ms Harrison said her mother was not washed properly, the bed sheets were filthy and the toilet was so dirty that she cleaned it herself.

She was left for long periods of time in her room without any member of staff checking on her and her water jug was often left empty.

Her soiled night clothes were bundled into a plastic bag and left inside her locker.

The emergency buzzer was out of reach and on one occasion when she used it no one came.

"She started choking on her medication," said Ms Harrison.

"I was trying to help her and pressed the buzzer but no one came. I had to run across to the door to shout for help before anyone came.

"The care was just... well there was no care. It was just unbelievable.

"We just feel as though that hospital was a hell hole."

Eventually Mrs Harrison was re-admitted to the critical care ward because she had become dehydrated. "How does anyone become dehydrated in a hospital?" Ms Harrison said.

When she was back on the ward a doctor confirmed that she was suffering from pancreatitis.

Ms Harrison said that her mother died on January 31, 2009, aged 69 of a combination of hospital bug Clostridium difficile, pancreatitis, ischemic heart disease and the laparotomy.

"She was a lively, sprightly, individual lady with a lot of friends and two older sisters," she said.

"She should still be with us now, she was only 69."

Ms Harrison said that there needs to be a "culture of change" in the NHS where hospital patients are treated with compassion and respect.

"There was a huge shortage of nurses, there was no continuity of care. No one really understood my mother's condition."

"It is a shambles. The whole system must have fallen apart.

"The nurses did not seem to care very much - some of them did but they were just stressed out because of the lack of support.

"We need to have much better training for the nurses - maybe more hospital based training instead of at college or university.

"The whole culture needs to change. People in hospital are at their most vulnerable and they need to be treated with care and compassion."

Ms Harrison complained to the trust about the treatment of her mother but did not receive a substantive response until 11 months later.

In the letter, the trust said: "In summary, it is evident that your mother's care was appalling and I can only sincerely apologise for this. It is an example of the type of care that was only too frequent at that time."

Lawyer Emma Jones, from law firm Leigh Day, represented more than 100 victims of abuse or their families, including Ms Harrison.

"Dorothy's case was one of the worst cases with which we dealt," she said.

"The lack of care was appalling. Mrs Harrison was in reasonable health when admitted to Stafford General Hospital - within two months she was dead.

"It seems incredible that as a patient at an NHS hospital, in the UK in the 21st century, she was left to sit in her own faeces and suffered falls which resulted in her breaking her arm.

"Staff did not answer the buzzer when she pressed it. Food and fluid charts were not completed, which means that nutrition and hydration levels were not monitored properly and even though she was in constant pain, staff did not manage Mrs Harrison's pain adequately, often having to wait hours before her pain medication was given."

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