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The Times
March 19 2000 BRITAIN

Inquiry called over abuse of elderly patients

by Chris Dignan and Jon Ungoed-Thomas

An independent inquiry is to be launched into the standards of care for elderly patients at Whipps Cross hospital in northeast London, where inhumane practices were revealed by The Sunday Times last week.

An undercover reporter working for ISS Mediclean, a hospital cleaning contractor, last week described how he saw a wheelchair-bound woman left in her own excrement, as well as a nurse mocking another patient for soiling herself. One patient had been threatened with being locked in a room, while a hospital worker had boasted that staff could steal drugs from the pharmacy.

Following the revelations, a member of Whipps Cross staff employed by ISS Mediclean has been suspended, auditors are checking access arrangements to the pharmacy and a new "statement of values" was given to all hospital workers and posted up on boards last week. A second hospital exposed - Colindale in north London - also said it had instigated a wide-ranging review.

It has now emerged that prior to the exposť, Whipps Cross - a large general hospital with teaching facilities - was already subject to an inquiry by the NHS ombudsman.

Earlier this month a wide-ranging report by the Health Advisory Service 2000, an independent charity, strongly criticised elderly care in general at the hospital and issued 41 recommendations - which have yet to be implemented.

Separately, the hospital commissioned an internal report over allegations surrounding the mistreatment of Edward Currey, 80, who was admitted to the Chestnut ward in April 1998 when he was dying from prostate cancer. Currey was forced to lie in his own excrement, had no assessment for pain relief and was allowed to stay in bed only for the last two days of his 11 days there.

"My dad went through the same kind of experience described in The Sunday Times," said his daughter Elaine.

The hospital inquiry produced 36 recommendations and these also appear not to have been implemented.

An official report into Garlands hospital in Carlisle, published late last week, revealed how patients had been beaten, tied to lavatories and force-fed.

The ward manager left before being disciplined and her whereabouts is unknown. She has not been struck off by the UKCC, the nurses' governing body.

The report, produced by the North Lakeland Healthcare Trust, which runs the unit, and North Cumbria health authority, said complaints had been ignored initially. It was only when student nurses raised the alarm again that a catalogue of abuse, described as "sad and indefensible", was unveiled.

Mary Styth, chairwoman of the North Lakeland Trust and who had called for the investigation, was sacked by John Hutton, junior health minister, on Thursday. She claimed she was dismissed for speaking out. "There was a conspiracy of silence by senior staff," she said.