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'Hospital was the scariest thing I've ever seen'

A PHOTOGRAPH was taken of Peter O'Malley the day before he died.

FAMILY: Sisters Catherine Thompson, left, and Elliot Laing have told about their father's ordeal after being admitted to hospital. Picture: Gordon Terris
FAMILY: Sisters Catherine Thompson, left, and Elliot Laing have told about their father's ordeal after being admitted to hospital. Picture: Gordon Terris

He is wearing someone else's top and his false teeth are missing. He has a cut above one eye, a broken wrist and a fractured collar bone.

But the 87-year-old had not been in a nasty accident far from home. He had been in hospital.

His daughter Elliot Laing took the picture on her mobile phone. She says her father changed dramatically during his time on the wards for elderly patients at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.

She says: "He went in with relatively mild disinhibited behaviour and his physical and mental health disappeared. His whole personality went."

She and her sister Catherine Thompson have spoken out about the care their father received because they are concerned about patients who are still being looked after on the same wards.

Mr O'Malley was a former naval steward from Haymarket, Edinburgh, and was involved in major Second World War operations. He worked as a proof reader for a national newspaper and in his retirement took classes in art and photography and sat English and maths exams.

However, his health began to decline when he reached his early 80s. He suffered mini strokes and was diagnosed with dementia.

During a spell in a care home to give his wife Bunty, 87, respite, he demonstrated inappropriate behaviour and was sent to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, a psychiatric service, for day assessments. However, he was kept in overnight and, when he tried to escape with the aid of his walking stick, he was sectioned under mental health legislation.

Mrs Thompson says: "It was his worst fear that one day he would go to hospital and never get out. The hospital was like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen."

She says the family were given no information about what to expect after his admission, and the state of the hospital and lack of activities left their father distressed and despondent.

Mr O'Malley described counting the leaves on the trees he could see through windows because he was so bored.

He had to share a bedroom with two other patients at night and spend the rest of his time in day rooms with patients whose behaviour could be irrational.

Mrs Thompson, 54, says: "He had nothing to do but sit in an uncomfortable chair all day. At times he described the ward as a waiting room. However, I have seen waiting rooms with more to do in them. Sedation seemed to be their answer to this problem."

His relatives say his gold Rolex watch disappeared shortly after his admission and they would find him reading the newspaper wearing other patients' glasses.

Mrs Thompson says the day after she brought him fresh underwear and jogging bottoms, with name labels on them, she saw a nurse putting them in another patient's drawer.

While she notes he was always clean, she says when her mother asked Mr O'Malley why his false teeth kept falling away they found they were filthy. In the end his teeth were lost as well. It was not unusual to find him wearing clothes that didn't belong to him.

Mrs Laing says: "All the clocks on the wall showed different times. We were told there was nothing they could do - they were controlled centrally."

A little more than a month after Mr O'Malley was admitted, he was considered ready for discharge, but he needed a care home to go to. While the family praises the efforts of their social worker, they still found it a battle.

Weeks passed and Mr O'Malley remained in hospital.

Mrs Thompson added: "Nothing can happen until you get a social worker. Then she was away on holiday. Then nothing can happen until her assessment is done and then nothing can happen until funding is in place."

When Mrs Thompson at last found a home who were happy to accept her father she says she was informed by her social worker that the council had "refused his funding, saying he didn't need nursing care".

By now Mr O'Malley, who had not been eating, was frail. He had fallen three times, breaking bones and hurting his face. Mrs Laing says at one point she heard him pleading to go to bed but the staff would not let him.

On October 21, after 13 weeks in the Royal Edinburgh, he contracted pneumonia. That evening his family gathered in his room, but say they were asked to leave so the other patients could go to bed.

Only when they requested it, were they given a private room where Mr O'Malley died 20 minutes later.

Dr David Farquharson, medical director for NHS Lothian, said: "We have met with Mr O'Malley's family and apologised for our failings in the care Mr O'Malley received.

"As a result of the concerns raised by the family we have reviewed practices and have an action plan in place to insure improvements are made."

A spokeswoman for the City of Edinburgh Council said: "We do not comment on individual cases, but the council works hard to make sure appropriate healthcare provision is there for those who need it."

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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