Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Medicine and the Media

Worst cases of patient care in the NHS

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 23 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7592
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}

The media made a lot of the recent Patients Association report of the worst cases reported to it but largely ignored the Commonwealth Fund’s report that found that the NHS provides excellent care, writes Margaret McCartney

The Patients Association has done it again. Its “damning report into poor care in England’s hospitals,” released on 9 November 2011, “contains some shocking accounts of care received by patients in hospitals across the country, focusing on four key fundamentals of care—communication, access to pain relief, assistance with toileting and help with eating and drinking” (,%20have%20you%20been%20learning.pdf). In particular it described patients “desperately thirsty” and a relative who had “to run out into the corridor screaming for help as her husband lay dying in his bed, because nobody answered the call buzzer.”

The report consisted of 16 stories of patient care, mainly written by relatives. The press, somewhat predictably, ran with it. “A filthy shame,” said the Daily Telegraph. “Neglect: the inadequate care of the elderly has been known for many years yet the scandal continues” ( Christine Odone wrote in a blog on the Telegraph’s website, “We’re talking neglect so horrific, that patients were left to lie in …

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