Penwortham mum suffering from severe seizures reveals anger at last-minute surgery cancellations at Chorley Hospital

A Penwortham mum who suffers from severe seizures has spoken of her anger after her gall bladder operation at Chorley Hospital was cancelled at the last minute.

By Laura Longworth
Monday, 27th January 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 1:58 pm
Laura Connor (right) with Katie Wright, who's been her best friends for 16 years.
Laura Connor (right) with Katie Wright, who's been her best friends for 16 years.

Mum-of-three Laura Connor was one of a group of patients being refused surgery on Monday morning - the day it was due to take place.

She said staff blamed a shortage of surgical beds, which had been filled up over the weekend with sick patients from other wards who were being kept in hospital.

The 40-year-old said: "It was an absolute farce. There were also children and a severely disabled lady being sent home. It was absolutely awful. Everyone was upset."

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Laura braving the shave three years ago.

A nurse, who informed each patient about the cancellations, encouraged her to contact the press to raise awareness of an ongoing bed shortage problem at Chorley Hospital, according to Laura. A last-minute cancellation is defined by the NHS as being either on the day that a patient was due to arrive, after the patient has arrived, or on the day of the operation itself.

She added: "The nurse was absolutely lovely but you could see in her face she was really nervous and under stress. She was mortified."

Laura became unwell last June when she developed seizures, high blood pressure and a bad rash all over her body. She had some brain damage and a collapsed pituitary gland, which is attached to the brain and secretes hormones that carry messages from one cell to another through your bloodstream. But her condition remained a mystery, with tests for shingles and meningitis offering no answers.

It wasn't until Laura collapsed and was rushed into hospital that her questions were answered when a scan and X-Ray revealed she had numerous small stones in her gall bladder.

Gallstones are usually made of cholesterol and can trigger intense abdominal pain if they become trapped in an opening (duct) inside the gallbladder, and can result in jaundice or acute pancreatitis. Treatment involves keyhole surgery to remove the gallbladder but very severe cases can be life-threatening.

Laura was also referred to a specialist at Chorley Hospital where she had a MRI and endoscopic ultrasound scans to check for liver problems. And then, after five letters from her doctor, she finally received a date for her operation.

The grandma-of-one arrived for her treatment at 7am on Monday and had been instructed not to drink anything from 5-30am that morning or eat anything from 8pm the night before.

She said: "You psych yourself up for an operation like that. It really angered people as they'd not eaten for a long time or drank anything for hours, and when you're hungry, everything comes to the surface.

"At 9-30am, a nurse started calling us into a private room one by one. No way the staff didn't know the beds were all filled at 7am when we arrived.

"Some patients had liver problems and a severely disabled woman had had her operation cancelled three times so she was refusing to go back to Chorley Hospital.

"I'm a single parent and had no money that day as I thought I was staying overnight. My mum was on a course so she couldn't pick me up. To their credit, the hospital did pay for a taxi home but someone had to say to them, 'You do realise she has no transport?'"

Laura went straight down to the reception and was given a new date for her operation on request, which will now take place at Royal Preston Hospital. But she said she would have faced a three-month wait if she hadn't pushed for it.

The former support worker says she felt devastated by the surgery being called off due to the impact of her illness and now lives in constant anxiety about developing sepsis if her gallbladder bursts.

She added: "It's just been a nightmare. I'm tired all the time and in pain. I'm off work and on bed rest so I've lost my job. I'm also in the process of having my eight-year-old son diagnosed with autism. He's very attached to me and I can't even put my arm around him and cuddle him.

"I'm an outgoing person. I use to work five to six days a week supporting people with extra needs and taking them on day trips and for walks, and I'd take my two-year-old granddaughter to the park. Now I can't even pick her up. It's changed my whole life. I feel down all the time and I just want to be me again.

"My 40th surprise birthday party had to be cancelled and I won't be able make my mum's 60th next month because I'm too unwell. It's really depressing. I'm sat in bed all the time. It's horrible."

But she says she doesn't blame the hospital staff and hopes that more money can be pumped into the NHS to tackle the bed shortage issue.

"I do genuinely feel for the NHS. It's going downhill so quickly and the nurse said cancellations are happening every week. I'd just like to see more funds go towards it," she added.

"I'm not angry at the hospital but at the situation. It's not the doctors' or nurses' fault. It's just the way the NHS is. I just don't understand why it should have to be this bad."

Chorley Hospital saw numbers of emergency operations soar towards the end of last year and a number of measures have been brought in to tackle the bed shortage crisis, according to NHS trust bosses.

Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Firstly we sincerely apologise to anybody who has had their operation cancelled. We recognise that postponing operations causes anxiety and disruption for our patients and their families, so we work hard to ensure all scheduled procedures go ahead as planned.

"We did experience a difficult winter period towards the end of last year and when there is a significant increase in the number of patients who need emergency surgery, unfortunately sometimes we need to postpone some planned procedures, particularly if a critical care bed is needed following a procedure, but there isn’t one available.

“The number of cancelled operations has already reduced significantly so far this year and we are working hard to reduce that even further. We are currently expanding our critical care unit to increase capacity for the future, which will help to address the issue.

"We have also introduced a new discharge process so that when a patient is ready to leave hospital we can discharge them quicker, which then makes a bed available for another patient.

"We have brought in a continuous improvement team to look at how we can make things better for our patients and we continue to work with our local health and care partners to change the way we work and provide care and treatment more effectively as part of the Our Health Our Care programme.”

Last-minute surgery cancellations in England

Cancellations across England reached the highest level last year since records began a quarter of a century ago.

The Royal College of Surgeons blamed under-funding, fewer beds and staff shortages.

There were almost 21,000 last-minute cancellations across England in the three months to September, an increase of 13% compared to the same period in the previous year and the highest number since records began in 1994.

Non-urgent procedures, such as hip or knee operations, that are called off at the last minute should be rescheduled within a maximum of 28 days, according to NHS rules. But nearly a quarter of the 289 patients who had their surgery dates scrapped by the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the three months to September have waited longer.

If a trust cannot reschedule the operation within 28 days, it must instead fund the treatment with another hospital.