Opinion - ‘What would happen to patients like Alan?’

Alan and Dee Matthews

Alan and Dee Matthews - Credit: Archant

Widow questions proposals to shut Sidmouth’s inpatient beds

Copy of a letter to the chief officer of the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group.

The GPs of Sid Valley Practice recently wrote to you on this subject and their letter was published in the Sidmouth Herald on Friday, October 7, 2016. I write in support of it and in the fervent hope that the beds at Sidmouth Victoria Hospital will never be closed.

The case of my late husband, Alan Matthews, illustrates exactly why Sidmouth Victoria Hospital and its hospice beds are so vital, not only to this community but also to the main acute hospital in Exeter, the RD&E.

Alan was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, a rare condition which was incurable and inoperable. By the end of 2015 he was also suffering from occasional mini-strokes (or dementia, no-one knew which).

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After a spell in London Hammersmith Hospital for specialised tests in October 2015, he was discharged to the RD&E for a further few days. He came home, but it gradually became more and more difficult to look after him here, even with the help of dedicated professional carers, GPs and district nurses. His non-stop attempts to move about independently resulted in frequent falls and further stressful trips by ambulance to the RD&E.

Whenever he was in the RD&E he was passed from pillar to post and found himself in a succession of different wards, always with staff who nursed him brilliantly, but whose priority should have been looking after those who were likely to get better. Alan was not going to get better, and no ward was appropriate for him.

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By February 2016, it had become impossible for him to come home and there was no residential nursing home which could cope with his needs 24/7. He was terminally ill and totally helpless. It took two people to get him in and out of bed, etc. The RD&E doctors simply didn’t know what to do with him - he was a problem for them and his bed was needed for others who, unlike him, might have a chance of recovery.

Eventually, a hospice bed was found for him at Sidmouth Victoria Hospital for the palliative, end-of-life care that he so urgently needed. It was given by devoted, vocational staff who are used to this type of work and do not have other priorities. At last he could find peace staying in one room, where he was nursed by the same familiar staff every day. His own GP was in overall charge of his care. His family and friends were all able to visit him, which gave him great comfort in his last weeks of life. He died there on April 2, 2016.

If the beds at Sidmouth Victoria Hosptial were closed, what would happen to patients like Alan? There is no hospice here. How would the RD&E cope? Please, please do not close any beds in Sidmouth. They are desperately needed.

Dee Matthews


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