Coroner Records “Natural Causes” Verdict Following Death Of Staffordshire Man

Lawyer Demands Urgent Review After Doctors Failed To Diagnose Bowel Obstruction


An inquest has heard how a patient died from a bowel obstruction after doctors and nursing staff failed to spot post operative complications following knee replacement surgery.

HM Assistant Deputy Coroner for Staffordshire, Louise McCabe, was told that the family of 68 year old Barry Harris from Burntwood had repeatedly raised concerns about his state of health with nursing staff and doctors. Despite suffering from a swollen stomach and having had no bowel movement since the surgery nine days earlier, Mr Harris was discharged from Burton Hospital.

His distraught wife told the hearing that doctors had reassured her that his condition would improve naturally. Just three days later, on 23rd October 2010, Mr Harris collapsed at home and despite the efforts of emergency paramedics, they were unable to resuscitate him.

Following today’s verdict that he died from natural causes, Laura Daly from Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, who is representing the family, has called for an urgent hospital review to investigate how experienced nurses and doctors failed to correctly identify that Mr Harris was suffering from a large bowel obstruction.

Former civil engineer, Barry Harris, who was married, with three sons and one grandson, had been admitted to Burton Hospital on 11th October 2010 for a total knee replacement, which had been a success.

The inquest heard that two days after the operation, Mr Harris had himself expressed concern that his stomach seemed swollen and he had not yet had a bowel movement. Although he was eating food, he did not have much of an appetite.

Over the next few days Mr Harris suffered a great deal of discomfort from his stomach. He was given medication for constipation, underwent an enema and a CT scan from treating clinicians, however his stomach remained swollen. On 20th October 2010 he underwent a further investigative procedure but no obstruction was detected and the decision was made to discharge Mr Harris later that afternoon.

Laura Daly from Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who represents the family and is taking separate civil action on their behalf, explained: “Barry’s care at Burton Hospital raises a number of urgent questions.

“After undergoing a major operation, one of the most basic aspects of nursing care is to ensure that a patient has had a bowel movement before being discharged home. 

“The fact that Barry was sent home, when it was clear that he had been having difficulties for nine days, is of particular concern. Medical and nursing staff carried out a number of treatments and procedures but, having failed to diagnose his condition, inexplicably, decided to discharge him.

“The family is very concerned that Barry’s CT scan has since been found to have shown a grossly distended bowel. However further treatment was not offered. They also cannot understand why he was kept on the orthopaedic ward, rather than being transferred to a medical ward for his condition to be investigated further.

“Following the conclusion of today’s inquest, the family will be taking separate civil action as they are anxious to know if these missed opportunities which they feel amounted to substandard care, played a part in his untimely and tragic death.”

Mr Harris’ widow, Valerie (68), commented: “The entire family has been devastated by what has happened. Barry was the centre of our family and I cannot come to terms with the way he died.  I have lost a husband and my sons, Mark, Steven and Carl and grandson, Austin has lost a much loved father and granddad.

“Barry and I had been married for 46 years and had recently been building our dream home in South Carolina, America. My brother Stewart and our sons Mark and Steven live out there and we wanted to be able to spend the rest of our retirement together being able to visit them as often as we liked.
“I’m so angry about the care Barry received. He put his trust in those doctors and they let him down very badly. I just hope the Trust will now look at what went wrong and take action to make sure another tragedy like this doesn’t happen to another family.”