When we are seriously ill we look to our doctors, nurses and other health professionals in hospitals to support us, to help us to recover and get us 'back on track'. In the UK we can take a lot of comfort in the fact that the NHS is there for us, free at the point of use, whenever we need it, so that we do not have to face illness on our own. But what happens when this care falls tragically short, negatively impacting on our long term health? Worrying new figures from the Department of Health show that for people with Parkinson's this scenario is all too often the case.
MP Catherine Mc Kinnell, who consistently champions issues affecting people with Parkinson's in Parliament, recently called on the Department of Health to release figures for the number of Parkinson's medication errors in hospital. The results made for sobering reading, showing that from January 2013 to December 2014 people with Parkinson's were subject to over 3,300 avoidable medication errors in hospitals across England. Almost 600 of these caused discernible harm including increased pain, severe rigidity and hallucinations. Even more worryingly we know that there is widespread underreporting of these errors, meaning that these results are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.
It is not overstating the mark to say that medication is an absolute lifeline for people with Parkinson's. Medication offers the ability to manage the condition on a day to day basis and provides a level of control after a diagnosis which can make you feel that control has been taken away. Because of this medication errors can have a devastating physical and psychological impact not only on the health of people with Parkinson's, but their families and carers too who then have to pick up the pieces.
Control is a fundamental human need, never more so when you know that a lack of control can severely impact your health and your basic ability to walk, talk and eat. Terry Walsh was admitted to hospital for an issue unrelated to his Parkinson's in November 2013. During the time he was in hospital he was never guaranteed to get his medication on time. "I was helpless and completely out of control of my own illness - it felt like being in prison." Terry said. "My symptoms significantly worsened over the time I was there - picking things up, drinking and eating became especially difficult."
As the statistics show, Terry is not alone in his experience. Other people I have spoken to have told me they are "terrified" at the thought of going into hospital because of not being in control of their medication and the debilitating impact this could have on their life.
There are many reasons why people with Parkinson's are subject to medication errors in hospital. Ward round times not corresponding with individual medication regimes or ward staff not understanding the critical importance of people with Parkinson's getting their medication on time are but two. We know that ward staff want to deliver the best care for their patients and that resources are increasingly stretched. But we also know that by making small changes care can be revolutionised for people with Parkinson's in hospital and the NHS can save millions which would be spent supporting people whose condition has deteriorated as a result of these errors. The ethical and economic imperative to change couldn't be clearer.
As part of our Get It On Time campaign, Parkinson's UK is calling on the Government and NHS to take urgent action to ensure all staff have a basic understanding of Parkinson's and that people with Parkinson's are able to take their own medication while in hospital when possible.
It is essential that people with Parkinson's get their medication on time, every time, wherever they are. We cannot afford to stand still on this.
For more information, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk/getitontime