Junkfood Science: Left to die

January 09, 2009

Left to die

It is inconceivable that a nurse would be oblivious to the fact her patient had not received any fluids or nourishment for an entire month. A young man, 43 years old, suffered a stroke which made it hard for him to swallow and he couldn’t communicate to call for help. He laid in a NHS hospital for 26 days and slowly, agonizingly was allowed to starve to death.

Martin Ryan is one of six deaths in NHS hospitals being investigated after the charity, Mencap, issued its 2007 report, Death by Indifference. What all of these patients had in common was that each was handicapped in some way, with learning disabilities or Down’s syndrome. “When you have got someone with a severe learning difficulty who cannot communicate verbally,” said David Congdon head of policy at Mencap, “they get ignored and staff in their subconscious do not value them, so they don’t get the care of attention they deserve.”

The other cases of vulnerable patients being allowed to die included a woman with cancer who was denied treatment, reported the BBC, “because doctors said her communication difficulties meant she was unable to consent.” A young 30 year old died of neglect after being admitted with a broken leg. “Three other cases followed similar patterns, with warnings ignored or problems missed until it was too late, often because the patients had difficulty communicating,” according to the Daily Mail.

Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, is expected to deliver a withering verdict later this month. As the Daily Mail reported:

Starved to death in an NHS hospital: Damning inquiry highlights case

…Sources said the overall picture of neglect that it paints is devastating. Campaigners will seize on the findings as evidence of a wider problem of institutional discrimination in the health service. The father of one man who died, who was just 20, said: 'People like my son are treated as less than human'….

The charity, which has complained of 'widespread ignorance' in the NHS, says many more cases have emerged since then. Sources close to the Ombudsman's inquiry said its findings will vindicate Mencap's attack almost totally. One said: 'The Ombudsman will issue a damning verdict in most, though not all, of the cases. 'In some cases the NHS's treatment of vulnerable people was quite shocking - a patient effectively being starved to death is indefensible.

Tory spokesman Anne Milton said: 'Unfortunately we are still seeing some pretty shocking cases where people's needs have been neglected and they are not gaining equal access to the NHS. 'Although these might be isolated incidents, every case like this is one too many. 'This is another deeply worrying example of how the Government has yet to get to grips with providing first-class care for everyone, including people with disabilities.'…

Full story here in the Daily Mail, here in the Surrey Comet, and here in BBC News.

Is this about gross incompetence and staffing shortages under government-run healthcare or that vulnerable people seen as no longer having social value or a “life worth living or worth saving” are being denied care and left to die?

Neither excuse is conscionable. Are we seeing the new medical ethic and the “serious moral malaise” forewarned by Dr. Edmund D. Pelligrino, M.D., more than a decade ago?

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