Undercover nurses saved my condemned mother: Daughter pays £1,000 for private carers after NHS hospital staff said she couldn't be saved

By Chris Brooke

Last updated at 10:22 AM on 24th October 2011

A woman spent £1,000 hiring private carers to go undercover and look after her dying elderly mother in an NHS hospital because nurses were not giving her the attention she needed.

Annette Townend acted out of desperation after a doctor warned family members that 82-year-old Sheila Smith would be dead within days ‘if something wasn’t done’.

The great-grandmother’s liver and kidneys were failing because she had not been eating or drinking, and overworked nurses at Bradford Royal Infirmary did not have time to spend with her.

Sheila Smith with her daughter Annette Townend who acted out of desperation when doctors warned her her mother would be dead within days 'if something wasn't done'

Sheila Smith with her daughter Annette Townend who acted out of desperation when doctors warned her mother would be dead within days 'if something wasn't done'

Mrs Townend, 55, told the professional carers not to wear uniform and she pretended they were relatives or friends. They did two-hour stints three times a day for nine days, sitting with Mrs Smith, feeding her, giving her fluids, taking her to the toilet and chatting to her to keep her spirits up.




The one-to-one attention worked. With the carers’ help, and the benefit of a fluid drip attached by the doctor, Mrs Smith made a remarkable recovery and was well enough to go home three weeks later.

Mrs Townend has spoken out to highlight NHS failings.

Wedding day: Sheila Smith and her late husband George

Wedding day: Sheila Smith and her late husband George

She said: ‘I am certain my mother would have died if the carers had not come in and looked after her.

‘I have always voted Conservative and I am concerned that David Cameron seems to think that the NHS trusts are doing all right. He needs to know the truth. From what I saw the elderly are getting terrible treatment. Unless there is a relative or friend to come in and help look after them, they have no chance.’

Mrs Townend was unable to help care for her mother herself because she has terminal bowel cancer.

Ironically she was a patient at the same hospital in August when the carers were employed. She was having chemotherapy and was  unable to spend time on her  mother’s ward because of the risk of picking up an infection.

Earlier this month a damning report by the Care Quality Commission found that one in five hospitals was breaking the law because the nursing care of the elderly was so appalling.

The Mail has long called for an end to neglect in hospitals and care homes as part of our Dignity for the Elderly campaign. Mrs Smith, a widow, was taken to hospital after collapsing unconscious at her home in Baildon, near Bradford, with a heart problem.


Her daughter said that in hospital she suffered four falls and became incontinent.

On one occasion she was found ‘flat on her face’ on the floor, having been there for some time, and she was badly bruised.

Mrs Townend, who owns a laundrette business, said there were  28 elderly patients on the ward,  with about half suffering from dementia and unable to do anything for themselves.


She said: ‘There were usually about six nurses on the ward. They were understaffed and overworked.’ Staff would put food and drink near Mrs Smith, but her family say she was too weak to take it, and got little help.

‘She and other patients were also left in soiled bedding for hours,’ said Mrs Townend. ‘It’s just not good enough.’

Bradford Royal Infirmary

Bradford Royal Infirmary: Annette Townend said her mother was left in soiled bedding for hours

One Tuesday a doctor told a relative that unless there was a change Mrs Smith would not live until  the Saturday.

She was put on a drip for fluids and Mrs Townend hired the carers from a company which specialises in looking after elderly people in the community.

She said: ‘I thought she was going to die, they just weren’t doing enough to look after her. I worked for the NHS for 15 years and never thought I would see a situation  like this.’

The carers sat by Mrs Smith’s bed and made sure she sipped the high-calorie drink she had been given. They also fed her tuna, salmon, rice pudding and jelly provided by Mrs Townend. ‘They saved her life, it’s as simple as that,’ she said.

A spokesman for Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We are sorry to learn of Mrs Townend’s concerns about her mother’s care.

‘We set high standards for ourselves and aim to get every patient’s treatment and care right, and in most cases we do.’

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