A mental health unit treating the elderly was “like a circus”, relatives of one patient who died on the ward have said.
Speaking for the first time, the family described patients roaming naked around Glan Clwyd Hospital’s Tawel Fan unit in Denbighshire.
The family spoke as the latest report examining patients’ care was published.
It dismissed previous claims there was a culture of “institutional abuse” at the now closed ward.
It was commissioned by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) after an independent report in 2015 heard claims from families that patients were kept “like animals”.
The latest report, by the Health and Care Advisory Service (Hascas), looked back at thousands of documents and the detailed circumstances involving 108 former Tawel Fan dementia patients.
It found there was “no evidence of institutional abuse” at the ward.
Ahead of its publication, the family of former patient Joyce Dickaty became the first relatives to speak out publically.
They said they witnessed “chaos” on the night their mother died in the ward.
The 76-year-old had been admitted to the Ablett psychiatric unit to be assessed in 2012, after her mental health deteriorated due to dementia.
“When she went in she was quite aggressive sometimes, if she didn’t want to do something – she’d tell you,” recalled her daughter Christine Henderson, who lives in Abergele, just a few miles from Glan Clwyd hospital.
“Within a couple of weeks I suppose of being there, she didn’t speak. She was just lying with her head on the side, asleep most of the time.”
She said her mother’s condition continued to deteriorate, and within weeks, Mrs Dickaty had been placed on an end-of-life care regime.
Her daughter described how the family had then been called out-of-the-blue to come to the hospital. She was told “it doesn’t look good”.
At the ward, a member of nursing staff told relatives that some of the other patients were being “rowdy” that night, and advised locking the door while they stayed with their mother.
“We noticed outside there was a lot of noise and a lot of patients were outside playing in the hallway,” said Mrs Henderson.
“A couple of them were naked. One had his underpants on his head.
“They sat outside our door, banging the door trying to get in.
“We were talking about it – how bad it was – not realising at the time that my mum could probably hear all this.
“So, she was probably worried about us on her death bed.
“It was like a circus really.”
Their mother died during the early hours, however that was not the end of the night’s trauma.
“It was a long night,” said Mrs Dickaty’s daughter.
“It wasn’t a nice room – it was like a store room. Her bed was by the door and then there was lots of beds piled-up on top of each other, and a curtain ripped down that was supposed to be hiding them.”
Family members approached nursing staff on duty to ask for advice and help, explaining that they thought their mother had died.
But Mrs Henderson said they were told no doctors were available.
Instead, the family waited by their mother’s bed “for hours” until ward staff arrived for their morning shift.
“There was no guidance, there was nobody around – it was chaos,” echoed Mrs Dickaty’s son, Phillip.
“There were people outside with underpants on their head, running around naked.”
He said it was like something out of the Jack Nicholson film about an American mental institution – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
“It was awful,” he added.
The family are now awaiting the outcome of the Hascas investigation, but have already signalled that they have little faith in the entire process.
“Most people lose someone and grieve – and it’s not very nice. We’ve been grieving for six years – that grieving process is continuing,” said Mr Dickaty.
“We want answers – we have not had answers.”
He added that the family had little trust in the BCUHB.
“Even if we get the answers to these two reports or three reports, with how they been, there is no hope – no faith – that the answers they will give us will be accurate,” he said.
“I wouldn’t trust the health board, I wouldn’t trust the findings.”
Officials for the health board said they would be responding to both the Hascas report and families’ concerns when the investigation report is published on Thursday.