Inside the stroke ward where patients were strapped to beds and doped like zombies while callous nurses mocked them – as revealed by their distraught families

The stroke ward at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, with male patients on one side and women on the other, is on the ground floor.

Back in 2017, there were 49 beds in the unit under the day-to-day supervision of a small team of nurses.

Only now, though, following a court case last week, has the disturbing truth about the ‘culture of abuse’, which existed behind the double-doors of this seemingly ordinary ward with seemingly caring staff, come to light.

As Julie Whitfield, whose partner David Boyle spent three months on the ward, put it: ‘It didn’t feel like other wards. There was a horrible atmosphere I noticed from almost the moment I walked in.’

Speaking exclusively for the first time, Julie describes the ordeal David suffered, shortly before a whistleblower alerted the police.

Catherine Hudson (right) and Charlotte Wilmot (right) pictured outside of court

Julie Whitfield with her partner David Boyle who died while in the Blackpool Victoria Hospital

The stroke ward at Blackpool Victoria Hospital (pictured), with male patients on one side and women on the other, is on the ground floor

Had she known what she knows now she would never have left ‘my lovely David’ there, she says. No one would.

Drugging patients to ‘keep them quiet and compliant’ or ‘out of spite’ or simply ‘for their own amusement’ was an integral part of the daily routine for some medical staff. 

‘D***heads’, ‘f******’ and ‘ stupid b***h’ is how they typically referred to those — like David, a well-known and much-loved figure in Blackpool, who used to run the Doctor Who Exhibition on the Golden Mile — in their charge, in vile WhatsApp messages they swapped with each other, and other staff, bragging about what they had done (‘I sedated one of them to within an inch of her life’) or what they were going to do (‘If bed 5 starts, he will [be] getting sedated to hell’).

The sign-off was invariably: ‘ha ha’ or pmsl (‘p*** myself laughing’). Controls were so lax that staff could help themselves whenever they pleased to prescription-only drugs from the hospital pharmacy, which became like a sweet shop, to satisfy their own needs, supply others or dope up patients.

Detectives uncovered an even darker story, however, when they began investigating the drugging allegations in 2018.

A murder inquiry, unrelated to the drugging allegations against staff, began following the shocking discovery that 75-year-old grandmother Valerie Kneale bled to death from internal injuries after being assaulted on the same ward — possibly sexually — by a ‘predator’ who is still at large.

Her appalling injuries only came to light during the post-mortem examination, and police were informed. In a bid to catch the killer, a £20,000 reward has now been offered by the Crimestoppers charity.

Eight other deaths, post 2017, on the same ward are also being examined by the coroner, although no member of staff has been accused of causing the deaths. 

To date, six members of the medical team have been convicted or pleaded guilty to offences including administering sedatives to defenceless patients, theft and supplying Class C controlled drugs.

Whatsapps and texts sent by Catherine Hudson from 2015 to 2017

Could there ever have been more offences committed by more staff in a single NHS unit?

The main culprits, senior nurse Catherine Hudson, 54, and junior colleague Charlotte Wilmot, 48, an assistant practitioner, appeared in the dock at Preston Crown Court a few days ago and were warned they face jail when sentenced in December.

The other culprits are: senior nurses Marek Grabianowski, who admitted conspiring to steal drugs from his employer and perverting the course of justice and Matthew Pover, who admitted being concerned in the supply of class C drugs, and theft, and healthcare assistant Victoria Holehouse, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal from her employer. 

Another healthcare assistant, who can’t be named, has been jailed for a separate criminal offence.

They were brought to justice after undercover officers mixed socially with staff from Blackpool Victoria Hospital and bugged the homes of suspects. 

‘The whole ward is corrupt,’ Hudson could be heard telling a family member after a listening device was planted in her townhouse, the end of a row of four on a new-build estate in Blackpool, in which she was also recorded fuming about the whistleblower, a student nurse on placement, who shopped her.

‘That stupid student,’ she said angrily, ‘has spoiled this.’

The worrying subplot to all this is that the complement of nursing staff on the day shift and night shift in 2017 numbered around eight and seven respectively, or even less.

What that meant was that entire shifts could have been made up almost entirely of cruel and corrupt nurses and healthcare assistants.

The family of one woman, complained three times about her treatment to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). The complaints went unanswered three times. So the abuse continued.

Treating everyone with dignity and respect and taking responsibility for the care they provide are the core values of the nursing profession. Most nurses meet those standards in often highly challenging conditions.

But, for a coterie of out of control staff on the stroke ward at the Blackpool Victoria, the opposite was true, as if they existed in a world ‘through the looking glass’.

Patients (and relatives) were treated with contempt. Staff came before patients. Everything was an inconvenience.

Hudson and Wilmot and their colleagues were not implicated in the suspected murder of Mrs Kneale or any of the other deaths, but that is the best that can be said of them.

David Boyle had the misfortune to come under their ‘care’ in August 2017 and spent more than three months in the unit.



Further texts from Catherine Hudson, some of which were sent to Charlotte Wilmot

Mr Boyle, 69 at the time, was well known in Blackpool, as well running the museum, he was a highly successful businessman, having founded leading model railway manufacturer Dapol. 

After suffering a serious stoke, he was admitted to the Blackpool Victoria, a ghost of the person he used to be. ‘The severity of his stroke left him profoundly disabled, unable to eat, drink [except through a feeding tube], walk and talk, Julie Whitfield explained. 

There was precious little sympathy for him from some staff, however. Two things in particular haunt her to this day.

Mr Boyle, who was paralysed down his right side, sometimes had to wear a ‘restraint mitt’ on his left hand — a white boxing glove-type gauntlet — to prevent him pulling out his feeding tube. 

On one occasion, however, Julie found the mitt had also been velcroed to the side rail of his bed.

‘This did not strike me as being appropriate,’ she said. ‘It had parallels, as far as I am concerned, with a prisoner being handcuffed to the bed.’ Such measures are allowed in the NHS, but only as a last resort.

Julie freely admits that David could be troublesome — he had suffered a severe stroke, after all — and occasionally lashed out at staff. But she does not believe this was the reason he was restrained.

‘Some of the staff made it quite clear from the start that they were not enamoured with him. I think they just got fed up with him.’

In the circumstances, few would disagree with her.

The second cause for concern — aside from the lack of empathy and compassion from a number of the ward team — occurred when Julie visited David one evening.

In his bedside cabinet she found his ‘medication’: The drug Zopiclone, a powerful sedative which, it is now known, was used to keep patients on the ward in a zombie-like state.

Zopiclone can depress brain function, interfere with respiration and, if administered inappropriately, is potentially life threatening.

Police photo of evidence including drugs collected from the two healthcare workers, Catherine Hudson and Charlotte Wilmot

The Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) guidance on Zopiclone is that it should be ‘stored securely’.

‘I didn’t question it at the time but I wasn’t given any real explanation as to why it had been administered. Whilst I was far from happy about it, I didn’t give it that much thought at the time,’ said Julie, who works for the Department for Work and Pensions.

‘But I’m now convinced David was sedated for the wrong reasons. I would put money on it. It’s heartbreaking to think about it now.’

But David was far from the only patient who may have been drugged to give staff an easier shift. More than 1,000 Zopiclone tablets, in fact, were dispensed by the hospital pharmacy for use on the stroke unit over a two-month period in 2018. 

Just 207 of those were recorded as having been prescribed, and 222 administered, raising the question of what happened to the rest.

This message exchange between Catherine Hudson and an unnamed healthcare professional answers that question.

Hudson: ‘I had Zopliclone [sic] in my pocket when I got home from work the other morning but I binned it, otherwise you could have had it .… Xxx’

Her colleague replies: ‘. . . I’ll see how I get on if not then you can rob me some tomorrow xxx’

Mercifully, David Boyle left the unit on November 22, 2017. ‘Once David was discharged to a nursing home Zopiclone wasn’t administered.

Within two weeks of discharge, he was a different person. In spite of his severe disability and extensive brain damage he was very much alert, content and made a positive, albeit very limited, rehabilitation.’ David passed away in 2019. 

He was 71. The Doctor Who theme was played at his funeral and his coffin was painted like the TARDIS. 

Police scrutinised his medical records during the investigation into Blackpool Victoria but, in the end, the evidence did not form part of the prosecution case.

How many other Davids are there?

Geoffrey Duckworth, a retired engineer, who was 86, was admitted to the ward on November 9, 2018. He died 13 days later. 

Mr Duckworth had chronic kidney disease but the primary cause of death was dehydration and chronic opiate toxicity following the administration of Midazolam, a drug commonly used in end-of-life care, a post-mortem examination found.

He is one of the eight former patients, mentioned earlier, whose deaths are now being investigated by the coroner.

We spoke to a former patient, a middle-aged man, who gave a statement to detectives about his time on the ward in 2018. His account, which was not used in the criminal proceedings, echoes the testimony of Julie Whitfield. 

‘My medication never seemed to be wearing off — I was in a constant state of sedation,’ he said.

Unlike David Boyle, he had health problems unrelated to a stroke. Despite his drugged-up state, he said he was aware enough to witness staff being ‘definitely heavy-handed’ with elderly stroke victims who became distressed at night.

‘Vocally trying to get them back to bed — it was more a push than assistance,’ he said. ‘If people didn’t have visitors, the treatment was worse.

‘It wasn’t a busy ward, but my mum would have to go to the nurses’ station to speak to them. They’d be busy watching television, or it was, ‘we’ll get round to it’. Then, after a couple of hours, it would still not have been done. 

‘I’d been on lots of wards but the stroke unit was different.

‘Some staff came across as though they would do anything to have an easy shift. All the other wards were fantastic. Something wasn’t right.’

His family complained but nothing was done. Eventually, his family self-discharged him.

Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, NHS Trust, which runs Blackpool Victoria, has apologised to families who had loved ones on the stroke ward. 

‘It is important now to reassure local people that Blackpool Teaching Hospitals has made significant improvements across a range of issues including staffing, managing medicine and creating a more respectful culture,’ said Chief Executive Trish Armstrong-Child.

We’ve heard it all before.

But the most worrying question remains: how could the culture of abuse and malpractice on the same ward have gone undetected for so long?

Source: Read Full Article