Doris and Graeme Lethbridge

Graeme is the primary carer for his mum Doris; they live in her home in Torrington. About four weeks ago, Doris was discharged from Northern Devon District Hospital (NDDH) in Barnstaple where she had been for about two or three months.

In October 2013 Doris was admitted to Torrington Community Hospital. Graeme explains what happened: “The doctor came over and he didn’t really want her to go anywhere! He said he didn’t even know if Torrington was open. I told him that it was and in the end he let her go there. She was in there on her own for a couple of weeks and then someone else came in as well. I think he didn’t want her or anyone else to go in there so they could say that when the beds were open they weren’t being used.”

Doris was discharged home from Torrington but after being at home for about a week she became very unwell and had to be admitted to NDDH. Graeme says that “It took about six to seven weeks at NDDH before she became well enough to be discharged. At this point she should have come back to Torrington, but the beds had closed then. They kept asking if she could go to Holsworthy because they needed the beds, but there is no way I could have got there, it’s too far! Bideford was the next closest one, but that was full so she couldn’t go there, so then they talked about South Molton and I told them that was even worse than Holsworthy! So she ended up staying in NDDH until she was really better to come home. This was made longer because there kept being sickness bugs going around the ward, it happened about two or three times when mum was there. This might not have happened if she’d come to Torrington and she might have ended up being home quicker.”


Graeme explains what the impact was of his mum being at NDDH for a long period of time. “I only get carers allowance” he explained “so it was a real struggle to have to get to Barnstaple every day. I made sure that I went every day; I wasn’t going to leave her there all alone. But nobody cares about that. Then you have to pay for parking, and it’s also difficult to find a place to park. My uncle who is 91 lives in Torrington as well. When mother was in the Cottage hospital he used to sometimes get a cab to come and see her, but there was no way he was able to do that when she was in Barnstaple.”

The possibility of receiving care at home was never discussed with Graeme and Doris. “We have carers who come in” says Graeme “They come in four times per day now to help her go to the toilet and things. I think that she would have been too poorly to go home. It’s different in the hospital, because you have nurses popping in and out all the time – when it was just her in Torrington she had all the attention to herself! They would also get her to walk from her bed to the tv room so she was getting exercise.”

“When mum came home, the physio came in for the first week; maybe two or three times. Then they told me there wasn’t any funding for any more and we haven’t see anyone since” Graeme explained that he thought his mum needed more support from the physio’s to keep her mobile and walking properly. “I haven’t asked for more, because I wouldn’t know who to ask! When you’re told something you just have to accept it – there doesn’t seem to be any caring at all.”

“I don’t feel like I can help her with things like that in case she falls over, then I’d have to call the ambulance and all that. I’ve had to do that before because if she falls I can’t pick her up on my own. Sometimes they will just help me lift her up, other times they might take her to Barnstaple to check her over but then I would have to bring her home. We couldn’t do that now though because she is too weak to get in and out of the car”

“I don’t know what else would help us because I don’t know what is available – I’m clueless really and that makes you feel more vulnerable. It would be nice if someone could come in every now and again to see how we were getting on, to do an assessment and reassure you that you are doing OK, and to let you know if there was anything that could be provided that might help make things easier rather than just struggling all the time. I am always struggling. We don’t get any help from anywhere. It would cost the government £3,000-£4,000 per week if mother were to go into a home and I receive less than £100 in benefits. I’ve given up everything to look after my mum and I’ve had nothing back”

“It would be good to have something local in place that works and is reliable, and easy to get at (so you don’t have to push this number and then wait with music etc). You need a number to call and a person to talk to who can help you.”

“At this moment in time we don’t need the beds but tomorrow we might, and we did before as well. It’s just good to know that there is somewhere local that you can go to.”

Last updated: October 3, 2017