My husband died like a battery hen, frightened, cold and ignored by hospital staff: MP's tearful attack on NHS care
MP said her husband was 'squashed up against the iron bars of the bed' with 'an oxygen mask that didn’t fit his face'The human rights advocate said 'nobody should die in such conditions'A spokesman for the University Hospital of Wales promised to investigate, saying they wouldn't tolerate poor care
00:46 GMT, 5 December 2012
A senior MP broke down in tears yesterday as she condemned the ‘coldness, indifference and contempt’ of nurses she blames for her husband’s death.
Ann Clwyd said her beloved Owen Roberts died ‘like a battery hen’ after her repeated pleas for NHS nurses to help him were ‘brushed aside’.
Miss Clwyd, a Labour MP for 28 years, sobbed as she revealed she has nightmares over the way Mr Roberts died six weeks ago ‘from the cold and from people who didn’t care’.
Speaking out: MP Ann Clwyd (left) said she found her husband Owen Roberts (right) squashed up in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask that didn't fit
At one stage, she said, her 6ft 2in husband was ‘squashed up against the iron bars of the bed’ and nurses cried ‘anybody for breakfast’ at the very moment that he passed away.
Her excoriating verdict on the NHS came as the chief nursing officer for England called for more compassion in hospitals. Jane Cummings said such values should be ‘embedded’ in public health care.
Miss Clwyd’s husband, a former head of news and current affairs at BBC Wales and an ITV executive, had multiple sclerosis and died aged 73 on October 23 this year at University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff.
She said he had hospital-induced pneumonia and nurses did not keep him warm or care for him.
The day before he died, she visited him from 2.30pm to 10.30pm, and wrote in a text message to a friend at 10.59pm: ‘No doctor has been to see him since this morning. Very few nurses around either. Not very happy with the set up.’ At 5am the next day she was called in and found her husband wearing an oxygen mask.
In an emotional interview on Radio 4’s The World at One, Miss Clwyd said: ‘He didn’t have any clothes over him, he was half-covered by two, very thin, inadequate sheets, his feet were sticking out of the bed at an angle, and he was extremely cold. I tried to cover him with a towel.
‘He was very distressed and totally aware of his situation and, although unable to speak because of the oxygen mask, he made it clear he was cold and wanted to come home. Well, a few hours later, he died.’
The University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. A spokesman for the hospital said: 'We will not tolerate poor care'
The 75-year-old MP for Cynon Valley claimed she had seen a nurses’ round only ‘once’ during her entire eight-hour visit the day before his death.
She said: ‘I kept asking people. I would go into the corridor and there were just no nurses around. I stopped one nurse in the corridor and asked her why he wasn’t in intensive care. She said, “There are lots of people worse than him”, and she walked on. I previously stopped another nurse and asked when a doctor had last seen him, and I was just brushed aside, and told a doctor had been to the floor but had not seen my husband, but she said, “We know what to do.”
‘Well I feel that “we know what to do” meant “do nothing”.’
The veteran politician, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, recalled her campaigning for legislation on the welfare of battery hens, and said: ‘My husband died like a battery hen.’
Describing the conditions in which her husband of 49 years – they had no children – spent his final hours, she said: ‘He is 6ft 2in, he was squashed up against the iron bars of the bed, an oxygen mask that didn’t fit his face, his eye was infected and, because the air from the oxygen was blowing into it, his lips were very dry and I used my own Lypsyl to try to moisten them. There were no nurses around.
‘At eight o’clock, just before he died, all the lights in the ward went on and somebody shouted “Anybody for breakfast”
‘It was obviously totally inappropriate when they knew there was somebody dying in that four-bed ward. The man next to him had been feeling hot and had a fan on and it was blowing the cold air towards my husband. I really do feel he died of cold and he died from people who didn’t care.’
She made clear she did not include all the nurses, but lamented what she described as the ‘coldness, resentment, indifference and even contempt’ of some of them.
Despite her experience in the corridors of power, she said she felt helpless at her inability to save her husband. ‘It gives me nightmares,’ she said, and began to cry as she added: ‘I find it very difficult to sleep…and very difficult to talk about.’
Serving the country: Ann Clwyd, was the UK special envoy for Human Rights in Iraq from 2003 to 2010. She is pictured with a soldier during a 2005 visit to the Welsh Guards in Iraq
Miss Clwyd said she was speaking out so that other people should not have to suffer in the same way.
‘I think it’s just too commonplace this kind of thing,’ she said. ‘I kept thinking about him being cold, but then I thought he was with professionals. That’s so basic. I can’t believe anybody calling themselves a nurse could actually let that happen. Nobody, nobody should have to die in conditions like I saw my husband die in.’
A Left-winger, Miss Clwyd is a well-known advocate of human rights for beleaguered minorities such as the Kurds.
Last night the hospital’s executive director of nursing, Ruth Walker, said staff had offered to meet Miss Clwyd so that a formal investigation could begin. ‘We take such matters extremely seriously,’ she said.
‘We will not tolerate poor care which is why it is so important that each incident is fully investigated so that we can drive up standards and provide patients and their families with the quality of care they need and deserve.’