The TRUTH about Glan Clwyd Vascular Unit
It is Friday the 8thof May, 2020 and I’m writing this blog at 8:30 in the evening. I have just returned home from Glan Clwyd Hospital in Bodelwyddan, after I was left with no alternative but to go there in person (naturally taking safety precautions beforehand, checking my body temperature, putting on freshly washed clothes and sanitising my hands before wearing a mask and surgical gloves). We are all currently living in the most awful situation and life as we know it is different, and hard to cope with at times. This for me and my family has been made harder by the fact that on Easter Monday I had to drive my beloved husband to said hospital as he was due to have vascular surgery the following day to remove his leg below the knee. For you to understand the difficulties we have had to face, I must explain the situation with my husband, his illness, and what has happened to him leading up to my journey to Glan Clwyd hospital this evening.
Pete (my husband) is a 49-year-old born and bred Scouser. He moved to Wales with his family 30 years ago and settled down. Flash forward to the year his first son was born, 1999 and as well as finding out he was going to be a father, he got the diagnosis of being Type 2 Diabetic. Now then, anyone who knows Pete, has met him, has had a run in with him when he was a bouncer, or generally been in any sort of contact with him knows one sure fact about him. He is stubborn, and he will be the first to admit this. As he will also admit that his biggest mistake was not taking the diagnosis seriously back then, by changing his lifestyle. However, it’s no use now saying “I wish I had done things differently” We can’t change the past, it is what it is. So, when Pete and I got together in 2012 his current state of health was certainly not the best. He was insulin dependent, had fibromyalgia, and was constantly getting ulcers on his feet. He did change his lifestyle, he did change his diet and did start to realise that he wasn’t invincible and that he had to take better care of himself. He would work for 3 months, then end up with a new ulcer, he would be treated either by the podiatry team at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor (our local hospital) or by them and the Vascular Outreach team.
Now I will say this with my hand on my heart and with absolute certainty in what I’m saying. The vascular outreach team, the vascular surgical team, and every member of staff that worked on Dulas ward were 100% committed to ensuring that every one of their patients received the highest level of care. Their goal was to always treat the patient correctly, with dignity, and with the aim of giving them the best quality of life possible. Now I have done a lot of research on this matter. Vascular teams deal with all kinds of illnesses and diseases, including strokes, diabetes, heart disease, vascular dementia, the list goes on. It’s complex, and for anyone who has a vascular illness it can be a difficult and emotional time for them. That is something the vascular staff in Bangor were always fully aware of, and when you walked or wheeled yourself onto Dulas ward you could sense in the atmosphere there that you were in safe hands, and your concerns would be met by a comforting and reassuring medical professional who were going to do everything they possibly could to help you.
I know this for a fact, I have seen it with my own eyes, I have spent countless weeks in the presence of these amazing workers, and I have witnessed the most skilled and dedicated surgeon (he’s a Professor in his field) sacrifice time with his own family to make sure his patients are getting the care, but most importantly the support they need, going above and beyond his call of duty for the sake of his patients.
2015 was meant to be the best year of mine and Pete’s lives. Our biggest achievements will always be our children; we love all 4 of them so much. And in that year our family was going to be complete because we were going to get married, on the 22ndof August. It was all I had ever wanted, to be married to a wonderful man, and watch our children grow. But on the 13thof May, everything changed in our lives. Pete had been off work because he was recovering from yet another diabetic ulcer on his foot, he seemed to be getting over it pretty well and then that night he said his left foot was hurting a bit and he was going to go to bed early, I did my usual check of his feet as I had been taught by the vascular outreach team what to keep an eye on and how to keep his foot moisturised to avoid skin cracking etc. I noticed the middle toe of his foot was slightly swollen and purple, I asked Pete if he had knocked it, but he couldn’t think of anything, he just wanted to sleep as he was exhausted.
When I woke up the next morning, Pete was burning up and seemed quite disorientated, when I pulled the duvet back to look at his feet I was horrified to see his entire foot had swollen up like a balloon and the middle toe was now a deep, dark purple colour. I called for the doctor immediately and within the hour she was there. She examined him and told us to go straight to casualty as she had concerns.
We arrived at A&E of Ysbyty Gwynedd and he was thoroughly checked over, and one of the Vascular team came down to examine him. He said his toe was gangrenous and the infection was clearly spreading up the foot. We were told that as a matter of urgency he would need to be transferred to Glan Clwyd hospital where the emergency vascular surgical team were and would be instructed to amputate three toes and remove all the infected tissue in his foot, he even marked the infected area with a pen. He said he would call the vascular surgeon at once and let him know what needed to be done and that Pete would be transferred there by ambulance immediately.
Things were moving quite quickly now, I called everyone I needed to, to let them know what was happening and hurried back home to pick up Pete’s eldest son and we left for Glan Clwyd hospital. It was a 50-minute journey from our home in Caernarfon, as opposed to the 10-minute journey to our local hospital in Bangor. When we arrived, we were eventually directed to the ward where Pete was, after having to sit in the waiting room for 20 minutes.
When we arrived on the ward I was horrified at what I was confronted with, Pete looked as white as a sheet, he had no idea where he was or what was happening, he was drifting in and out of consciousness. Around his hospital bed were 2 surgeons, and 2 nurses. The surgeons were looking back and forth at each other and were touching his foot with their hands to see what temperature it was, disappearing then returning 5 minutes later. No one was telling us anything, I had no idea what the plan for surgery was and worse of all I couldn’t comfort Pete’s son, who was stood there in tears watching his father slip away. The surgeon kept walking away then coming back asking Pete questions that he clearly couldn’t answer. It was as though he was doing everything he could to delay taking Pete down to theatre, and I couldn’t understand why.
I had reached my limit, and I asked the nurse who was the only one that acknowledged me standing there what was happening with Pete and what was the plan for surgery. She looked at me and said that the aneasthatist was on the way up to talk with Pete about the surgery and the need to place him under general anaesthetic. He was there within 10 minutes, he looked at Pete, tried to talk to him and explain what was happening and managed to get him to agree that I could sign the consent forms on his behalf. Then he started to walk away, I followed him and asked him to be honest with me. He told me he was heading straight down to theatre and he would tell the surgeon to bring Pete down within 30 minutes or it would be too late. He suspected Sepsis and he said that Pete’s only chance was to perform surgery immediately.
We were able to walk down with him to the entrance of theatre, I kissed him and told him that he had to be strong and come back to me.
The waiting was agonising; all I could do was hope and pray that Pete would survive. 3 hours later a nurse came to the waiting room and told us he was out of surgery and in recovery. We were so relieved, I thought that we were through the worst and everything would be ok. Nothing was further from the truth.
Pete came back onto the ward, he seemed a bit better than he had been before the surgery, but something still didn’t seem quite right. I lifted the bed sheet and saw his foot was heavily bandaged (as expected) but I couldn’t shake the feeling deep inside that something was wrong. After making sure that Pete was as comfortable as he possibly could be, since no one else seemed to be on the ward to do so. The whole time we were there on the ward (a total of 10 hours) we had seen 3 nurses, and only one of them had been to check on Pete.
The next day, Pete’s parents went to visit him, and they were horrified to see him lying on the bed, his sheets covered in blood, his foot hanging off the side of the bed with blood dripping onto the floor. His bandages were soaked, and he looked awful. They went to bring this to the attention of the nurses and it was another 40 minutes before anyone came to clean up the floor and change his sheets, they didn’t remove the blood-soaked bandages they just added more on top.
When I visited him the next day I was feeling angry that no one had come to discuss anything with us, we had no idea what had happened in surgery other than the fact that they had amputated one toe. The weekend came and went, I visited as much as I could which was difficult as we weren’t exactly made of money, and I could only afford to visit him once a day, if that. Not to mention that I also had to take care of our children, and with our wedding only 3 months away, I had no idea what was going to happen there. My stress levels were through the roof, but all I wanted was for Pete to be ok. On the following Monday the 18thof May, I received a message from a friend who was also a nurse at Ysbyty Gwynedd, she had heard about Pete and wanted to know how he was. I shared my concerns with her about the lack of care he had been receiving at Glan Clwyd and the terrible state he had been left in. She was amazing, she instantly let the vascular team of Ysbyty Gwynedd know of this and by the next day they had arranged for Pete to be transferred back to Bangor to be under their care.
Within 30 minutes of arriving on Dulas ward, Pete had been seen by the consultant, the vascular outreach team and he had a team of nurses looking after him. The first thing they were horrified with, was the fact that his dressing had not been changed since it was put on after surgery. The bandage they had used was all wrong, it was a compression bandage, the last thing that should have been put on and what was worse was the travesty they had left his foot in. They had removed the middle toe, and cut the skin up to the centre of his foot in a V shape, and that was it. They had not removed any of the dead or infected tissue. I was never the squeamish type, so seeing wounds didn’t bother me. Now I’m clearly not a surgeon but even I knew that they had truly botched this operation. His foot looked like a child had just hacked at it. I was livid. The surgeon Dr Chaku came up to see him had the entire foot cleaned and spent a lot of time explaining to us both what they would have to do. He informed us that he would have to operate, and he wasn’t guaranteeing that he would be able to save Pete’s leg, but he would do everything he possibly could to try. He was caring, compassionate, but most of all we had confidence in his ability to perform the surgery. He ensured that Pete was placed on the correct antibiotics (another thing they had failed to do right at Glan Clwyd) and told us he would operate the next day.
The next day Pete was taken down to theatre and Dr Chaku performed the surgery. He removed two more toes and cut all the way up his leg to about 2 inches below the knee, he had removed all the dead and infected tissue. That was how far they had had to go because of the failings of Glan Clwyd. This was devastating to us all as a family, but we took comfort in knowing that Pete was now getting the best care possible, and we had every confidence in the vascular team. Professor Dean Williams who oversaw the vascular unit came to see and review Pete regularly, he was working on the plan for his rehabilitation and had sat me down and discussed in detail what Pete was going to experience, what their plan was for getting him better, what treatment he was going to receive, but the most amazing thing he did was he promised that he would get Pete to our wedding. He may have to be in a wheelchair, but that wasn’t a concern for me in the slightest bit. Professor Williams and his team had ensured that Pete’s leg had been saved, they were taking excellent care of him and they had given us all hope.
Professor Williams and his team didn’t fail us. Pete made it to our wedding day, and thanks to the amazing care and rehabilitation he had received at Ysbyty Gwynedd, he wasn’t in a wheelchair, when I looked down the aisle there he was standing proudly waiting for me. The vascular team had all had a hand in ensuring our wedding day was as special as anyone could have ever hoped for, and for that reason they will always have a special place in my heart.
The next few years were tough but with the backing of the amazing team at Ysbyty Gwynedd Pete started to recover. It came to a point where the tissue and skin had grown back without any need for further surgery, he didn’t even need skin grafting which surprised everyone. The botched operation in Glan Clwyd had however affected Pete’s mental health badly. Being a sufferer myself I saw the signs immediately. Pete was suffering from PTSD. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming that they were going to take his leg. He kept having nightmares about going through the theatre doors of Glan Clwyd. It changed him, and it was painful to watch. He made me promise him that never again would he have to go back to Glan Clwyd, and after the way he had been mistreated there, I never wanted him to endure that sort of neglect and incompetence ever again. Dr Chaku and Professor Williams treated every complication that Pete faced right there on Dulas ward, they once removed his metatarsals in his cubicle on the ward, because they knew their patients, and that’s what made them the best team in the country. Their patients weren’t numbers or statistics to them; they were human beings that deserved to be treated with respect and dignity.
And then we were rocked with the awful news of Betsi Cadwaladr’s plan to move the vascular unit from Bangor to Glan Clwyd. We were outraged, how could they possibly have thought that moving the best unit in the country could possibly fix the failings of that disastrous place. In my opinion it had nothing to do with improving patients care and lives, and everything to do with covering up their mistakes and the disasters of a failing hospital. Pete was adamant that he would not return there, his anxiety levels were ridiculously high and he feared getting sent there. Then when we heard that they weren’t going to move the unit, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, but that was short lived. You see the board had lied to the public, they were going to move the unit. This was a complete outrage. And it resulted in the biggest travesty I could have imagined. Professor Williams and Dr Chaku both resigned. This was a huge loss to the medical community as a whole, but devastating for all their patients.
In December of 2019 Pete was once again admitted onto Dulas ward, he had lost his heel on his right foot, Dr Chaku had taken care of him up to that point but when he was admitted this time, there was no more Dr Chaku, no more Professor Williams or their amazing team. He was being treated by a surgeon who was competent, he knew what he was doing, but there was one small problem that I could see. His main residence was in London!! Now I’m no geography expert, but I’m certain that London isn’t in Gwynedd, or Denbighshire. It’s not even in the same country! And this is how they want this “world class vascular unit” to be run from Glan Clwyd? With surgeons that don’t even live in the same country as the hospital, it’s ludicrous. When Pete refused to be transferred to Glan Clwyd he was met with hostility and was not treated kindly at all. When I arrived at the hospital I also tried to argue the case that Pete was trying to explain to them, that Glan Clwyd was not a place he felt safe, that the stress of it all could cause him untold damage physically as well as mentally but they didn’t want to listen, and tried to get me to convince Pete to do as they wanted. That particular battle, we won, it could have had something to do with the fact that the surgeon noted that I was keeping detailed notes with photographic evidence of everything that was happening with Pete’s case, because the details of his first time in Glan Clwyd had “mysteriously disappeared” from his medical file.
So, on Christmas Eve morning 2019, Pete was taken down to theatre in Ysbyty Gwynedd and it was done under a blocker anaesthetic so he was awake, which was the biggest relief for Pete, and that evening I was allowed to collect him from hospital and bring him home to celebrate Christmas with his family.
His wounds were being dressed and monitored by the District Nurses who visited Pete at home every day, and he was seen at the hospital by vascular nurses when he was in there for dialysis (every Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and he would occasionally be seen by the surgeon that operated on him at Christmas. Then, just before the country was put on lockdown he informed Pete that although they had been trying to fight the infection in his leg with antibiotics it wasn’t having the desired effect. They would need to amputate, and he would not be able to do it in Ysbyty Gwynedd, he would have to go to Glan Clwyd. This was the news I had been dreading for months. I knew there was no other choice, thanks to the decision of the Health board, there simply was no other alternative available, Pete would have to return to the one place I had promised he would not have to visit again. You see, Pete had once made the same promise to me many years ago. As you can see from my previous blogs, I am a former victim of domestic abuse, and there is an area that will trigger my anxiety and bring some horrific memories back to the surface. Pete promised me that never again would I have to go back there, and even with his failing health he has kept that promise, and he always will.
So here we are faced with a difficult decision, but we had no choice, Pete would have to have the surgery, and it would have to be at Glan Clwyd. So, there we were, Easter Monday, driving the 1 hour journey to Glan Clwyd hospital. And I could feel his anxiety levels getting higher and higher the closer we got. It was extremely difficult for Pete to enter that hospital again, and his anxiety levels were dangerously high, what made it worse was knowing that I couldn’t be there to support him this time. Naturally, due to the COVID 19 pandemic there are no visitors allowed on the wards. So, when I took him there, that was the last time I saw him. Of course, we both have modern technology helping us to keep in contact with each other, but it’s not exactly the same is it. Being able to hold your husbands hand and tell him how brave he has been and reassure him.
On Tuesday the 14thof April, Pete was taken down to theatre. He called me beforehand and said that once again it was being done under the local anaesthetic but the surgeon that had gained his trust and assured him that he would be the one performing the surgery was not there, believe it or not, he was in Ysbyty Gwynedd!
He was scheduled for an afternoon surgery, but he was made to wait outside theatre for an hour. This did absolutely nothing to help his anxiety, he was terrified of going in there again, and now he had to lie on the trolley and stare at the doors that had been haunting his nightmares for the last 5 years. He eventually went in and they performed the surgery. They amputated below the knee, as had previously been discussed, and then taken to recovery. Hours went by and we were all sat at home worried out of our minds. Eventually it was 9pm and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I had to search on the internet for a contact number for Glan Clwyd, not as easy to find as it should be, and after ringing 5 times I eventually got an answer. I said that I wanted to be directed to ward 3 Vascular for news on my husband’s surgery, I was redirected somewhere else, I asked the same again, and was put on hold for 6 minutes, and then the line went dead. So once again I rang back, asked the same question, was redirected to the wrong place (again) and was told that they had one patient in recovery but there was no name for him on the system. The lady on the phone, tried to find out if it was Pete but was unable to get that information. I was eventually put through to the ward and when I asked for any information the nurse said she had no idea and could I call back later. There was no way I was going to sit for another hour not knowing what had happened to my husband, whether the surgery had been successful, or if he was even alive, considering the risk involved due his failing health. I asked her to please try to find out what had happened to Pete and I was told to wait, she clearly had just placed the phone down on the desk as I could still hear what she was saying. The first thing I could hear was her asking someone if she could have a cup of tea as well (important for them to stay hydrated of course, but was hardly a priority at that particular moment), some muffled talking, then finally she asked about Pete’s whereabouts saying his wife has phoned the hospital, and won’t call back (rude, yes) then she picked up the phone again, told me he was in recovery, and would be back on the ward within the next 30 minutes.
At 11pm Pete video called me to say he had just arrived back on the ward. I was overwhelmed with relief at seeing his beautiful face and knowing the surgery had been successful, we talked for a while and I thought that things were going to be ok. It would be a difficult and long recovery and rehabilitation process but I knew that Pete could handle it. On the 17thof April, Pete was transferred back to Ysbyty Gwynedd so he could continue his recovery there. We were all so relived, but then what happens, 1stof May he’s transferred back to Glan Clwyd because they suspect infection is still in there, still in the bone. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Once again he would be subjected to being in the place that causes him extreme anxiety, and more surgery would be necessary. He was taken down to theatre just for a small debridement of the infected tissue, nothing major but still a cause for concern. Then Pete called me for a conversation that has had me worried ever since, they were going to have to perform surgery on his leg again, they weren’t convinced that they had removed all the infected tissue and bone the first time so now they would have to cut above the knee. On Tuesday the 5thof May, he was taken down for the third time to theatre. Would you like more details on the surgery? If they were successful in removing all the infection from his leg? If they are happy that he won’t need any more surgery? How Pete is doing in himself? How his health is at the moment? So would I. I don’t have any of that information, no one from the hospital or anyone on the ward had let me know anything. Every time I tried to call Pete there would be no answer and on those rare occasions that he did pick up the phone, I couldn’t understand anything he was saying, he would say that he’s quite high on the painkillers they were giving him. The worry for me though was that no matter what level of painkilling medication Pete had been on before, he would always call me, or at least call his son. But this afternoon we were at our wits end. Everyone had been trying to phone him, his phone was switched off, his parents and myself had been phoning the hospital at least 3 times, taking way too long to get through to the ward, and when we eventually did get through we kept getting fobbed off with things such as “Can you call back later on” “I don’t know which nurse is in charge of his care” “I think he’s down in dialysis, can you try again later?”
I just couldn’t take it anymore, which is why I got into my car and made the hour-long journey to try and get some answers.
I wasn’t expecting to see Pete, as I understand there are rules in place for a reason when it comes to visitors, but I was going to try and get some answers. Finally, a nurse came out to the corridor to see me. She told me as much as she knew, his operation went well, his wound had not been closed up because they would need to go back in again, there was a blocker in place so he couldn’t feel his leg, and that he would probably see someone on Monday, and that I shouldn’t worry.
How can I not worry? My husband is to have yet another operation (more operations and amputation in 3 weeks than Professor Williams or Dr Chaku performed on him in the 6 years they looked after him) and no one was keeping me informed about anything. Why did they keep the wound open? Isn’t he more at risk of getting infections with an open wound? Why has he not been himself for the past 3 days? Why is he being dialysed for 2 hours more than usual every time?
I have so many questions and I can’t get any answers from that hospital. Which is why I decided to write about it, and share Pete’s story so that people can know exactly what is happening in this place, how the patients are being treated, how their families are being treated and the fact that they have made a terrible decision in moving one of the best Vascular units in the world to a hospital that’s trying to cover up its major faults and failings. Well we are not going to be silent any longer, I will not allow the health board to get away with treating people this way. They have a duty of care, and at the moment, they are failing. The vascular surgical unit should be run from Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor under the supervision of Professor Dean Williams. Patients’ lives would improve, the risk factor wouldn’t be as high, and unlike Glan Clwyd they would not be known as “The chop shop”, that is the name that has been given by the local community for the vascular unit there because all they do is amputate, they don’t try to treat in other ways as it certainly CAN be done as Professor Williams and his team did so successfully for many years.
This is not the end of Pete’s story, because I will not allow it to be. I will fight for him, but I will also fight for everyone else that has raised their concerns about this decision, the ones who have been affected so badly and for those who are afraid to speak out about what’s really going on behind the scenes.
On behalf of Pete and our entire family I would like to thank you for reading about his story, and if you can share it with as many people as possible so that they can be made aware of what is going on in Glan Clwyd then it would be a big help. And if anyone wants to contact me about this issue, or have themselves been affected by the change then please feel free to email me anytime.
Take care of yourselves, and each other.