Elderly Patient Died After Becoming Dehydrated

Lawyers Say Family Looking For Assurances That Training Is Improved To Protect Future Patient Safety


By Dave Grimshaw

The son of an elderly dementia patient who died after being hospitalised with dehydration and a urinary tract infection has hit out at a Sheffield hospital for not acting on clear signs that she needed urgent treatment after an inquest into her death.

Evelyn ‘Ann’ Coupland’s family complained about the care received by their 77 year old mother while she was a patient at Grenoside Grange hospital on Salt Box Lane in Sheffield in April 2012.  The ward is used for assessing people with mental health problems and Mrs Coupland had been admitted due to her dementia.

At an inquest at Sheffield Coroners Court the coroner gave a narrative verdict saying that Mrs Coupland had died after becoming dehydrated and contracting a urinary tract infection.  This in turn led to a chest infection, and ultimately to Mrs Coupland’s death. 

Susan and her brother, Steve, from Sheffield, instructed specialist medical lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to represent the family at the inquest having raised their own concerns about the level of care from staff which led to Mrs Coupland becoming dehydrated. 
Expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell say they hope that lessons are learnt from the case and that staff training is improved at Grenoside Grange to prevent others suffering in future.

The Coroner heard evidence from Mr Ken Smith, a Senior Nurse at Sheffield Health and Social Care Foundation Trust, which is responsible for Grenoside Grange.  Mr Smith accepted that there were serious concerns about the care received by Mrs Coupland on 14 April 2012.

Mrs Coupland had remained in her room and was apparently asleep for more than 15 hours.  The staff did not appear to make interventions to support her basic nutrition and hygiene needs, even though a doctor had made recommendations for this to be done. Although there were basic care plans in place, these did not reflect the deterioration in Mrs Coupland’s needs, and were not regularly updated. 

Giving evidence at the inquest, Mrs Coupland’s daughter, Susan, said that she had to insist that her mother was seen by a doctor and pleaded with staff to admit her to a hospital which could help her. 

However, Mrs Coupland was not transferred to the Northern General Hospital until the following day.  Susan had also asked staff to check for infections and to encourage more drinking as she was aware that on her visits she said only seen her mother take small sips of fluids.

Sarah Rowland, an expert medical lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the family said: “This is a very sad case in which an elderly resident on a specialist hospital ward suffered from very poor levels of care.  Mrs Coupland become dehydrated and developed a urinary tract infection which required hospital treatment.  She sadly died as a result of the urinary tract infection and chest infections, one of which was caused by the urinary tract infection.

“It is important now that staff training is improved and that lessons are learned from this case so that other residents at Grenoside Grange and their families are not put in this terrible situation.

“Patient safety should be the number one priority of all healthcare organisations. The standard of care provided fell below the standard that should be expected and put Mrs Coupland at risk.”

A separate investigation carried out by Sheffield City Council’s Safeguarding team concluded that staff neglected Mrs Coupland’s needs.  The Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust has accepted that from 7 April onwards, there was a lack of coordinated action by staff to address Mrs Coupland’s deterioration.  Mrs Coupland’s son says he is now seeking reassurances that changes will be made to improve care.

Steve said: “It was just devastating for the family when my mother died, especially knowing that we had raised concerns about her care and that more could have been done to help her. Communication was poor from the staff about what they were doing to help my mother eat and drink and we had also raised concerns about bank holiday staff and how many people might be around.

“We had found my mother still in bed at 2.30pm in afternoon and were told by staff not to wake her as she makes their job difficult. She was given strong sedatives but these were never really discussed with us and it just seemed like she wasn’t being given proper help to eat and drink, despite being clearly unwell.

“We could see on 14 April that she was not well and needed to be in hospital and we couldn’t understand why it was only the following day that she was transferred.

“We just hope that by highlighting the poor care that my mother received, changes will be made and others will not experience the same poor levels of service. We would hate for other families to be in the same situation.”

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