Shocking story of Harpenden vet's dying days

PUBLISHED: 20:02 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:24 06 May 2010

A HARROWING account of the last two weeks of a top veterinary surgeon s life in a local hospital has emerged in a national report exposing shocking standards of NHS care. Professor Leslie Vaughan, aged 81, from Harpenden, died at Hemel Hempstead Hospital

A HARROWING account of the last two weeks of a top veterinary surgeon's life in a local hospital has emerged in a national report exposing shocking standards of NHS care.

Professor Leslie Vaughan, aged 81, from Harpenden, died at Hemel Hempstead Hospital in November of last year. His case was one of 16 included in a report released by the Patients Association last week.

The world-renowned veterinary surgeon's death is the subject of a formal complaint which is now under the scrutiny of the Health Service Ombudsman.

Working with the Patients Association, Professor Vaughan's daughter, Sian van der Welle, from Harpenden, wrote an account of her father's NHS ordeal in the hope that it would raise awareness of the inadequate treatment elderly and vulnerable people could face.

Professor Vaughan, a former president of the Royal Veterinary College, treated small animals up until six months before a stomach cancer diagnosis in July 2008.

He underwent an operation soon after his cancer diagnosis to remove his stomach at Watford General Hospital and after a long stay he was able to return home.

But he deteriorated and was admitted to St Albans City Hospital before being moved to Hemel Hempstead Hospital where he died two weeks later.

The Patients Association report lists a number of shortcomings in the care which he received at Hemel Hempstead Hospital, including a lack of sympathetic nursing.

As his condition deteriorated the family tried to obtain a hospice place for him and after a struggle that was arranged. But on the morning of the move Mrs van der Welle and her mother arrived at the hospital to find him alone with the curtains drawn around the bed. They were not adequately warned of the extent of his deterioration and shortly after their arrival he died. Mrs van der Welle said: "The family finds it unacceptable that a man at this point, so obviously close to the end of his life, should be left alone behind curtains on a busy ward. When you witness the end of someone's life the memory remains with you forever and this uncaring and insensitive attitude has made the grief much more difficult."

She also saw other elderly patients at the hospital experiencing shortcomings in their care and she hopes her complaint will help to bring about changes to the system.

Of particular importance to her is for the NHS to improve end-of-life care for patients of all ages.

Mrs van der Welle felt compelled to log a formal complaint when the family received a letter addressed to her father a week after his death, asking him to rate his hospital stay.

She described the complaints procedure as a "learning curve" because of the huge amount of work involved, but she hoped others would now do the same when problems arose. She added: "An apology isn't good enough; they need to change things for the better."

A spokesperson for West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust said they were "committed to providing the highest quality of care to patients and the majority of our patients tell us that they experience good, quality, safe and effective care."

She confirmed that they have responded to Mrs van der Welle's complaint and reiterated their "sincere condolences" given to the family in a letter in February.

She added: "The Trust takes all complaints seriously and investigates each one to ensure that, where appropriate, lessons are learnt.

"The Trust is awaiting the outcome of the Ombudsman considerations and will co-operate fully with any subsequent requests for information.


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