28 November 2010

Walking in a Walsall Winterland

Or to be more precise Aldridge and Rushall. My thanks to a friend in Sunderland who gave me the title to this blog! These are the parts of Walsall you don't see when rushing (or crawling as the case so often is) through on the M6.
I do this walk very regularly and enjoy it immensely. It takes me from the edges of Cuckoo's Nook and through The Dingle and then onto Hayhead Wood. I then walk along the canal to Park Lime Pits, go around the pits, go back up the the canal to walk past The Manor Arms (well not always past, I've been known to partake of a beverage there) and then through to Aldridge again.
Today was a beautiful, sunny but bitterly cold day but I dressed for the weather, as did many of the other people that I saw walking along the route and thoroughly enjoyed the walk. Most of the time it was peaceful. I always find the noise from the model planes on the Airport Field an irritation!
There's beauty to be found even in Walsall!
The photographs were all taken on a very cheap digital camera, set for automatic.

24 November 2010

Life at the Manor

This article brought back some bad memories for me. It is shameful that an elderly man should be treated (or not treated as the case is) like this. An apology has been made by the Head of Nursing at the Manor and the Coroner commented that Mr Westwood had not received the level of care he needed.

The problem as I personally see it though is that there are few that do get the care they require and need. To me this problem is in the ownership of the management who clearly do not give the leadership and direction that is so sorely needed, so wound up as they are in targets and figures rather than in the patients that they are responsible for. And yes I use the word patients and not service users or other euphemisms that have crept into our daily life.

Let me make it clear; I have met many staff from doctors to nurses to ancillary staff at the Manor who are dedicated and work tirelessly in the comfort and care of their patients but despite the shiny new buildings and state of the art technology, there is an endemic culture of mismanagement there.

Let's start with out patient appointments at clinics. I have had the misfortune of having attended countless such appointments at various clinics run by various consultants. The words brewery, inebriation and organise not, spring to mind. Not one has ever run efficiently. I am yet after 10 years, to see a member of staff within 15 minutes of my appointment time and my last visit ran up a record of a two hour wait before the consultation. No apologies were offered and no information was given as to how long I may be sat there for. Taking into account that my appointment was set for only 10 minutes after the start of clinic I wasn't expecting a flight time check in wait. It's no use making a complaint as I have discovered because all you get back is patronising platitudes that mean nothing are are worth less and a displeased consultant who is none to happy with you.

In the brand new out patient in the shiny new PFI funded building, clinic patients are to be issued with pagers if clinics are running late in order that the patient can go wander around the various franchised catering outlets and be paged when the consultant is ready to see them. Presumably the pager manufacturer is working flat out to furnish the hospital with the outrageous numbers required! Why can't the hospital management come up with a better run system? One say that does not book three or four patients into the same time slot with the same consultant? Other hospitals do. I have frequented the QE in Birmingham and the Children's Hospital also in Birmingham on a fairly regular basis and their clinics do run far more efficiently. Never at either of those establishments have I waited longer than 30 minutes after the appointment time and frequently have been seen on the dot.

The crux though: Mr Westwood was subject to the type of lack of care and attention that my mother encountered at the same hospital in 2004. Since then we have been assured that practices have improved to go with the beautiful new facilities. It seems not. I copy below part of a blog I made back then about the lack of care and treatment Mom received.

"As I entered the ward I was struck by the most powerful and overwhelming smell of urine and faeces. The further you get into the ward, the worse it gets. There is no getting away from it. Unbelievably the ward is carpeted and it is the carpet that I can smell. I was not the first to complain about this and I wasn't the last. The ward was an orthopaedic one which due to its nature meant that many of the patients were elderly who had suffered nasty fractures. Incontinence is no stranger to the elderly especially when they are distressed following a fall. Whoever made such a pathetic decision to lay carpet in such a ward should have their noses rubbed in it.

Mom was a patient for eight weeks. For about half of this time she lay flat on her back unable to move and therefore subject to the whim of the staff when it came to bedpans and feeding. Most of the time her meals were removed uneaten and no remark made. Trying to feed yourself whilst lying flat on your back and being in incredible pain is difficult to say the least. Mom had called for a bedpan several times but had been unable to produce the goodies. This meant that when she called for one again the staff started to get a little slack. She was worried about this and mentioned it to a nurse. The nurse told her not to worry and if they didn't get there in time to "just shit yourself, everyone else does and we have to clean it up anyway". Not only was Mom helpless but she was now having what little dignity she had left brutally removed from her. Naturally the staff member who said this denied it when I made my written complaint but I have since encountered several people who have spent time on the same ward and have been told exactly the same thing. I suspect it is unwritten hospital policy.

A couple of days in I sat down at visiting time next to Mom's bed and remarked that the urine smell was even worse. Mom whispered that the night before her urine bag (she had a catheter fitted) had not been emptied and it had got so full it burst.

One night after a week inside I received a desperate telephone call from Mom at 10pm. They were moving her to another ward. No warning, nothing, just like that. They had waited until after I had left at 9pm and then moved her. Now I accept that people have to be moved in order to take account of operational needs but why is it done when relatives have returned home? Mom was very upset because of the stressful situation she was in as well as the unremitting pain.

The move turned out to be a good one once Mom had settled into the new ward. She wasn't moved again and over the next few weeks through better pain management and physiotherapy began to become more mobile again. However distressing experiences were plentiful. One elderly lady came in with two broken wrists. If my mother had not helped her to feed, that woman would have starved because nobody ever helped her with her food. Another woman discharged herself and went home to no support or help because she did not want to be sent to a care home miles away from her own home, meaning that her only visitor, her lodger who suffered from alzheimer's would not have been physically able to visit her. Pain management for some patients was a joke with them having to fight for something a little stronger than a paracetamol."

It saddens me to ask you to compare and contrast with the lack of care and treatment that Mr Westwood received. Little has changed including the Chief Executive, although the carpets have gone thank goodness. The culture of an organisation for me, comes from the top. If the top executives refuse to address endemic practices and attitudes then they spread and fester. If however they realise that enough is enough and that bad practice, bad care and bad treatment will not be tolerated and stop worrying about financial figures for long enough to actually think about how a hospital should be run, for the benefit of the patients and not to further their own careers, then it can change.

Like I said there are some really wonderful staff at the Manor. Pity they're not having a say in how the place should be run.

9 November 2010

Remembrance: An Ordinary Life

The man above is my Great Grandfather Frank Keys. Frank was born on 13th November 1885 in a back to back house in West Bromwich. He was the third child of William and Martha. William had been born in Adstock in Buckinghamshire, a place where once the Keys had been a prolific family and had owned nearly all the horses in the village along with decent parcels of land. Over the 19th century the Keys family gradually left their Bucks roots and dispersed around the globe searching for work and a better life than the awful agricultural poverty that had become the norm in places such as Adstock during that century. William went with his parents to the Black Country and followed his father into the brewing world and worked as a malster, as Frank later did too.

Frank's mother was Martha. From what I have discovered her life was full of misfortune. She had been born in Evesham Workhouse, the second illegitimate daughter of a single woman who died when Martha was just 10 years old, not that Martha had really known her Mother because she had been sent to West Bromwich at a young age to live with an Aunt. Her elder sister died before Martha's first birthday.

Martha was just 18 when she gave birth to her first son, Frank's eldest brother William. Nearly three months later on New Years Eve 1882, William made an honest woman of Martha and married her. There soon followed Frank's one and only sister Charlotte. Frank never knew her though because she died a year before his birth.

Throughout his childhood Frank would have got used to the regular arrival of a new brother. Eventually Frank became one of seven brothers. He would have known pure, grinding poverty. These were mean streets of the worst kind of back to back housing but the poverty would have been through the low wages paid by the local main employers involved in iron making, steel spring manufacturing, glass manufacturing, mining at Sandwell Park Colliery, chemical production ironically owned by a different Keys family one of whom became the Mayor of West Bromwich and the eight breweries. Labour was cheap because it was so freely available.

By 1906 Frank had met Ellen Smith who worked as a hand gummer in a printers. Ellen herself had roots in Buckinghamshire. Ellen found herself pregnant in early 1907 and at the end of March that year she and Frank married. Their first daughter Doris was born later that year and she was later joined by a sister Edith and then Daisy. Shortly after Edith's birth, Frank and his family moved from West Bromwich to Aston, possibly the prospects in brewing were better there than West Bromwich where breweries were closing.

In 1906 Frank had lost his father William who died at the age of 42 in the month of June through cystitis pyelitis; an acute bacterial infection of the bladder and kidneys possibly caused because William was diabetic or had renal failure. In 1913 Frank's mother Martha died. She had just about made her fiftieth birthday. Frank's brother Harry had left the UK the year before in October of 1912 to seek a new life in Canada.

In January 1915 my Grandmother, Gladys was born. She was Frank's last child and she never knew her father because shortly after her birth The Great War became reality and Frank enlisted in Birmingham in the regiment of the county of his birth; The South Staffordshire Regiment. According to records Frank was attached to the 1st battalion but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission say he was in the 12th. I suspect he was in the former because the 12th although formed in Brocklesbury in June 1916, did not arrive in France until October 1916 and by then Frank was dead.

Whatever battalion Frank served in what is clear is that he was in France on 1st July 1916 when The Battle of the Somme began. Frank died of wounds on Friday 14th July 1916. He left behind his widow Ellen and four daughters whose ages ranged from 8 to 18 months. He was just 30years old. An ordinary man who had lived an ordinary life.

Frank was eventually buried in Serre Road Cemetery No.2, Beaumont-Hamel. This simple fact was not know about by my Grandmother until 1989 when I wrote to the CWGC and they kindly supplied the information. In 1990, nearly 75 years after Frank had died a family group including my Grandmother and myself visited his grave for the very first time. It was an emotional day. We remembered this man who had lay for so long in a foreign land along with all his comrades, who also were ordinary men with ordinary lives, all of whom left behind people they loved to die within the slaughter of their generation.

We cannot know precisely what Frank encountered and what horrors he may have witnessed but because of the experiences of others we can guess. We remember them all and the sacrifice that they and their families made.

This photograph is of Ellen Keys and of her and Frank's daughters.

8 November 2010

A memory rediscovered....

I was going through a bag of papers today. I had discovered the bag at the bottom of a chest in my bedroom, covered by years of bits and pieces. In amongst receipts, old notes and other unimportant bits and pieces I discovered this note:

"hang on the notice board please

When i am a teenager when i leave home remember i am still part of your life. I will visit you and I hope you go to heaven. Same for you dad. I will love you whatever happens. I hope you'll be happy and have a good future

baris age 7 and 3/4"

It was hung on the notice board for the pin holes are there but I have no recollection as to when I took it down. I do remember though the conversation that prompted the note. The usual one that parents have with their children following the declaration by a child that when they grow up they want to marry you.....such memories. I'm so glad that I have rediscovered this precious note.