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Dad told alone at 3am he had cancer

The daughter of a father who died just 18 days after being told alone at 3am that he had cancer has worked with hospital staff to improve other families’ experiences of receiving devastating news.

Sharon Fletcher shared the story of her father Elwyn Richards’ final days so that hospital bosses could consider the compassion and kindness shown to families with a loved one going through end of life care.

The chairman of University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM) NHS Trust board apologised to Sharon and her family after being told that father-of-two Elwyn, 76, had been alone, without a loved one present to support him, when he had been given the news at Stafford’s County Hospital that he had cancer and later at Royal Stoke when he told it was inoperable. His family also faced visiting restrictions due to Covid control measures in place on the ward he was placed on, before he was moved to another area of County Hospital.

Since his death in October 2022 Sharon has worked with UHNM to develop training for staff. At this month’s trust board meeting she told hospital bosses she was proud that her father’s story had gone on to make a positive impact for other families – and praised the team at Katharine House Hospice for their care of her late father at the end of his life.

She said: “My father was asked to attend County Hospital by his GP and because of Covid restrictions only one person was allowed in with him at the Emergency Department. At 10pm we had no option but to leave him there.

“At 4.30am my mum received a phone call from my dad to inform us he had had a CT scan later that evening, the result was shared at 3am and they told him he had cancer. To be alone for this news, without family around him, I can’t begin to imagine how he would have felt receiving this news.

“Following that phone call, as a family we were not able to join him until 8am when the doors of the emergency department were opened. We stayed with Dad until he was transferred to Royal Stoke later that evening.

“He was informed the primary cancer was in his pancreas and on the morning of October 7 he was told, again alone with no family support, his cancer was untreatable. This news was shared in a four-bed bay.

“He made it clear he wanted to go home and his discharge took over five hours – even after waiting that long we were told it could take a few more hours. He remained at home for a few days after that and was quite poorly.

“On October 11 he attended County Hospital for an outpatient MRI scan and on October 13 he was referred to the medical unit. We were informed there were Covid restrictions on the ward and we would have to leave.”

Retired police officer Elwyn, who lived in the Wildwood area of Stafford, was later transferred to another ward at County Hospital, where his family could visit him, but there was a limit of two visitors per bed and he wanted to return home, Sharon said. “My dad was upset and didn’t want to be without his family at this stage.

“Because he was on a palliative pathway, he could be taken home and the Katharine House team were amazing – the district nursing team were fantastic as well. My dad passed away in the early hours of October 18 with his family around him.

“A more compassionate and kind approach could have made a world of difference to my dad. I am very proud that his story will now be part of your approach on how you support families.”

UHNM board chairman David Wakefield said: “I can only apologise on behalf of the trust. Getting that news at 3am without family there is devastating, and to have a repeat of that was just terrible.

“Family need to be included in discussions. Compassion and kindness make a massive difference when they are receiving news around end of life and I want our trust to understand maintaining dignity and compassion is really important.”

UHNM Chief Nurse Ann-Marie Riley, speaking after the meeting, said: “We have worked very closely with Sharon to ensure we learn from the experience she and her family had in the run up to her father’s death and make improvements so theirs is not an experience shared by other families.

“Sharon never intended to make a formal complaint but wanted to share her father’s story so we could improve patient experience. As a result we have made changes to our complaints process to better understand the outcomes people are looking for and determine the best way forward to get resolution.

“Elwyn’s story has been included into the Trust’s Palliative Care training, providing a real example of the impact of delivering end of life care, and Sharon has been involved in recording a discussion around ReSPECT training and the importance of involving family members in the process which has been shared across the NHS system in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent. We are also working with senior nursing teams to review visiting times to make it possible for family members to be present in event of delivering difficult news.”


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