When a hospital fails to treat its patients either with dignity or with empathy, it not only contravenes one of few inviolable human rights; it also fails at healthcare.

A travesty of care

Today, a seriously ill cancer patient, Janie Martel, tells the story of what she describes as "inhumane" mistreatment at the hands of medical staff at the A&E unit of Musgrove Park Hospital, the largest hospital in Somerset, UK. She was recorded last night by BBC and ITV news and her reports will grace television screens in the south west of England in tonight's evening news.

Among the travesties of care were:

  • The hospital’s apparent failure, on two separate occasions in a single week, to properly assess her condition in the context of her highly complex medical history
  • Its apparent failure to provide the requisite medical care, and
  • The hospital’s forced, undignified discharge of Mrs Martel in the early hours of the morning, with inadequate clothing and without due consideration of her grave state of health. 

In the most recent case of early-morning forced discharge, which occurred this weekend, Mrs Martel subsequently became hypothermic and had no option but to call the police for assistance. She was eventually – and begrudgingly – taken home by taxi before sunrise.

Focusing the Care Quality Commission’s inspection later this month

Musgrove Park Hospital has yet to be inspected in 2013 by Prof Mike Richards’ recently upgraded inspection team from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).  However, inspections are scheduled on 23rd, 24th and 25th September 2013, with other unannounced visits in the following 10 days.

Additionally, on Tuesday 24th September at 6.30 pm at Somerset County Cricket Club (The County Ground), Taunton, TA1 1JT, the CQC is hosting a public meeting where the community can voice concerns about healthcare services provided by Musgrove Park Hospital in advance of the CQC’s inspection of the hospital.

Becoming a whistleblower

At the request of Mrs Martel, given her frail state of health, ANH-Intl has been facilitating the communication of the case, as well as acting as a contact point for media and other patients who also claim to have received sub-standard care at the hospital.  The aim of Mrs Martel’s initiative is to file these cases with the CQC, along with local Members of Parliament (MPs), to ensure that such serious failings in healthcare are not repeated.

Jane Martel, the recipient of inadequate and unacceptable treatment at Musgrove Park Hospital

Ironically, Mrs Martel told ANH-Intl in an interview in May 2013 that: “Fate or luck determine which Accident and Emergency [A&E] unit you’re taken to, and whether or not you receive the best or worst treatment for your long-term prognosis.  Having been to so many hospitals all over the world, I’ve found that efficiency, communication, coordination and looking at the whole picture of the patient is vital to the outcome.”

Just weeks ago, Mrs Martel had been receiving pioneering cancer treatment at the University of Frankfurt, Germany, for breast cancer with lung and liver metastases. Upon her return to the UK, she suffered a cardiac arrest on the flight into London and was immediately hospitalised at the UK capital’s West Brompton Hospital.  After receiving exemplary care, she was discharged and returned to her home in Milverton Somerset. It was then that she suffered the two further seizures that resulted in her emergency admissions during the last week.

The Musgrove Park Hospital website reminds patients of its commitment to the NHS Constitution

Not an isolated case

Being made to feel unwelcome in an A&E unit is one thing. Being refused treatment and being forcibly discharged at significant risk to one’s life, as happened to Mrs Martel, is another.  Had Mrs Martel felt her case was isolated, she would have likely stayed mute.  But since moving to the area, she has encountered others in the local community with similar stories of poor quality of care.  While the forthcoming CQC inspection, aided by the complaint of Mrs Martel and others, may reveal the extent of the problem at Musgrove Park Hospital, exposure of the case in the media could provide an important wake-up call to other UK hospitals.

Breach of human rights and NHS Constitution

The very first article of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, now ensconced within the Lisbon Treaty, states: “Human dignity is inviolable.  It must be respected and protected.” 

Mrs Martel’s treatment at the hands of Musgrove Park Hospital’s A&E service appears to be in clear breach of the UK National Health Service (NHS) Constitution that declares:

“The NHS…service is designed to diagnose, treat and improve both physical and mental health.  It has a duty to each and every individual that it serves and must respect their human rights...The NHS aspires to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism – in the provision of high quality care that is safe, effective and focused on patient experience.”

Inspiring reform

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we will likely discover the extent to which the actions of this brave, gravely ill individual have triggered improvements in standards of care within Musgrove Park Hospital, and potentially other hospitals around the UK.

While the NHS aspires to patient-centred care, Mrs Martel’s treatment is an example of just how badly given services can fall short.  But when a patient is prepared to speak out, and that patient is heard, you have the basis for community-inspired, bottom-up reform.

Since UK hospitals remain among the most dangerous places to spend time as a patient, with rates of preventable death similar to those experienced by British servicemen deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, reform is sorely needed.

Read the accompanying ANH-Intl press release.

Call to Action

  1. Somerset residents who have experienced sub-standard care at Musgrove Park Hospital should contact ANH-Intl at [email protected] or ring 01306 646 600 to collaborate in a formal joint complaint to the Care Quality Commission
  2. If you have experienced what you believe to be sub-standard care in another UK hospital, tell the Care Quality Commission by ringing +44 (0)3000 616161, email [email protected] or use its online form. If you know others who have experienced sub-standard care, encourage them to provide feedback.  The NHS Constitution asks patients for feedback about treatment received — whether positive or negative.  Make your voice heard!
  3. If you have experienced sub-standard care in any other hospital or healthcare facility, make sure you file a complaint through the proper channels and encourage others to do the same.

Together, the community can make a difference.


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