‘Are Burnley old folk being left to die?’ asks daughter

Val Nicholson with her father Peter who is concerned by his treatment from the NHS.
Val Nicholson with her father Peter who is concerned by his treatment from the NHS.

A LOVING daughter says recent bitter experiences with the health service has convinced her that sick pensioners are being ignored in Burnley.

Val Nicholson has battled to have appropriate treatment for her parents for years. Her 74-year-old mother died and her father, Peter, is still waiting for an urgent heart operation six months after it was supposed to happen.

“It makes me wonder if doctors and consultants get a bonus for saving the NHS money by allowing the older people to die”, said 80-year-old Mr Nicholson.

Miss Nicholson made a formal complaint after her mother, Jean, died, but, she says, it was a waste of time.

“I can’t believe that nine months after losing my mum and the appalling standards of care that surrounded that, I’m here again fighting for my dad to have appropriate and timely health care,” she said.

Miss Nicholson says there is no liaison between professionals charged with taking care of the sick.

Her mother had dementia and was cared for by her father at their home in Reynolds Street in Burnley, and the family faced an uphill battled for support.

“The reason I have not put in any formal complaint this time is that it’s a total waste of time and effort,” she said. My dad cared for my mum who had dementia and did an amazing job for nearly 10 years. My mum was very poorly and we had to complain at every single step through her illness, just to get proper health and social care for her and carer’s support for my dad. The case went to the attention of Paul Burstow, Minister of State for Care Services. The prospect of going through another paper exercise less than 12 months after my mum died fills me with dread, especially when nothing actually changes.

“I just feel that my dad deserves better health care than he is getting and better health care than my mum got. I am fed up with having to fight for everything and feel sorry for those people who have nobody to fight on their behalf.”

Her experience has convinced Miss Nicholson that local elderly patients are left in dire straights.

“I thought it was dementia care that was poor, but what we’ve been through has shown me that all elderly care in this part of Lancashire is really poor,” she said.

“What’s more worrying is that my parents have always had people to fight their corner. How on earth do those without anyone go on? It is a mess.

“It would appear that I can do no more, no matter how much I beg, or complain,” she said. “Am I destined to lose both parents within a year, when both could have been avoided with timely and appropriate medical intervention?”

Looking back, she said: “It’s been a nightmare. We battled for 10 years to get some support for mum. Dad was really struggling to look after her, and she was denied medical access when she became unwell.” Shortly before Mrs Nicolson died she was found a respite care bed, in Haslingden, but when she needed medical help the family was told it was “out of area” for her GP.

“I rang for an ambulance because we thought she had had a stroke,” said Miss Nicolson. “When she was taken to hospital it turned out she had cancer of the brain and in her body. Because she had dementia it had not been identified. She was cared for on the stroke ward for the last three weeks of her life, and at least she died with dignity.”

Heart patient Mr Nicholson was also unwell at the time when his wife was seriously ill. He was due to have open heart surgery at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on December 15th. “My mum was critically ill at the time and my dad queried whether he could put off surgery,” said Miss Nicolson. “The consultant advised him to stay on the list as a delay may result in him needing emergency surgery.”

In the event, Mr Nicholson did not have his operation. He became unwell in November, but it was not until January that he was given medication to treat colitis. “By that time my dad had virtually lost the will to live,” said Miss Nicholson.

In May Mr Nicholson again saw his cardiologist, and was promised surgery within six weeks. However, no date ever arrived, and Miss Nicolson was forced to ask the patient advice and liaison service at the hospital to intervene on her father’s behalf.

“It seems to me though that if people are over 65 nobody can be bothered,” she said. “There is a feeling that it would be better if they just disappeared.”

Eventually, Mr Nicholson was given a date, July 24th. “It’s six weeks after the date his surgery should have been done. In June he had to be admitted as an emergency to coronary care. He felt so ill that I rang the new 111 number and they arranged for an ambulance straight away,” said Miss Nicholson.

“The consultant on the unit told my dad that he was desperately in need of his surgery. He also liaised with the Blackpool cardiology department, so it shows that people can talk to each other.”

Colette Crowther, Locality Director at NHS East Lancashire said: “Unfortunately, due to patient confidentiality I am unable to comment on individual cases. However, I am confident that my colleagues in both primary and secondary care do their utmost to address any concerns that patients, their families, or carers have. All NHS organisations have processes in place for listening to, and investigating, concerns or complaints and I would urge anyone who has any anxiety or worries over levels of care to follow these. It is only when we are made aware of any issues that we are able to address any complaints, and if necessary, implement any improvements.”

Care of the elderly is said to be a priority of a new body about to take over responsibility for running local health services. Brierfield GP Dr Mike Ions is chairman of the East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group.

He said: “The CCG has identified the care of older people as a key priority within its strategic plan, and is working closely with Lancashire County Council and others to ensure that services are available at the right place from the right professional and at the right time. The CCG is committed to improving patient experience and is developing mechanisms so that patients and their carers can inform us of their experiences which will be used in our commissioning and relationships with our member practices.”