A South Lakeland Coroner has criticised a North Cumbria hospital for its management of the nutrition of a 95 year old Alston woman who died within 24 hours of being discharged.
Dorothy Barnett, a retired shorthand typist, died in Alston Cottage Hospital on 24th March 2010. She had been discharged from Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary the previous day.
The inquest, held by HM Coroner Mr Ian Smith, took place at Kendal County Offices on 23rd & 24th August 2012
Mrs Barnett’s daughter, Alix Martin has always maintained that her mother’s treatment raised questions about whether or not patients’ basic needs of nutrition and hydration were being met in the Carlisle hospital.
Mr Smith returned a verdict of natural causes, but in his summing up, he described as “wildly inaccurate” the assessment of Mrs Barnett’s ability to feed herself and said it was “unacceptable” that the Trust had destroyed food diaries on the grounds that they were too “voluminous to store”. Mr Smith went on to say that the rigorous enforcement of protected mealtimes on the ward was “dogmatic” and that Mrs Barnett’s “family could have been involved more” in encouraging her to eat.
Speaking after the inquest Ms Martin said, “I’m extremely grateful to the Coroner for his very thorough investigation. Mum’s case illustrates the lack of care being shown to the elderly in hospitals across the country. As well as concerns about how her fragile skin was being managed, I had been very worried that her basic needs for food, water and warmth were not met. I feel vindicated today to hear the Coroner recognise that more could have been done to make her last few days more comfortable.”
Ms Martin continued, “The inquest has, at least, meant that the circumstances of my mother’s death have been fully scrutinised, but I remain deeply saddened that my Mum’s last few days were so uncomfortable and that the Trust seems unable to accept any criticisms about her care. I hope that the Coroner’s comments will have some impact and that standards and procedures will be reviewed so that other fragile, elderly patients can expect better care.”
Ms Martin’s lawyer was Emma Brough, an associate legal executive from the specialist medical law team at Burnetts Solicitors. Mrs Brough said, “This has been a very difficult and frustrating process for Alix. Our investigation was able to address some of Alix’s queries but this inquest has been essential for its in-depth inquiry. I am very pleased for Alix that the inquest has been so comprehensive. Many of the records which could have reassured Alix remain unavailable, despite our requests.
Mrs Brough added, “The Coroner was clear that he did not believe that poor nursing care contributed to Mrs Barnett’s death, but he did recognise, as I do, that the sad process of dying was made even more difficult and distressing by her treatment.”
Ms Martin was represented at the inquest by Barrister David Juckes from Hailsham Chambers in London.
Issues regarding fundamental patient care were recently highlighted by the Patients Association. When the charity launched its Care Campaign in November 2011, it reported that one of the four main concerns reported to their helpline was that patients were not assisted with eating and drinking. Further information about the CARE campaign can be found here http://www.patients-association.com/Default.aspx?tabid=237