Medical Law Experts Urge Hospital To Improve Care After Coroner Says Treatment ‘Amounts To Neglect’
Lawyers representing the family of a Wakefield woman who died after suffering from a perforated duodenal ulcer are urging the NHS to learn from its mistakes – after a coroner ruled that a six-day delay in surgeons investigating her symptoms amounted ‘to neglect’.
Susan Summers, a 37-year-old mother of three from Ossett, West Yorkshire, died on 25 March 2010 following four operations to deal with internal bleeding after the ulcer broke through an artery.
Medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell representing the family are now urging the NHS to learn from this case to ensure a similar situation cannot happen again after it emerged that, while doctors were expecting her to be seen by surgeons within four hours, the review did not take place until Mrs Summers suffered from a life threatening bleed requiring emergency surgery, a full five days later.
At an inquest into her death at Wakefield Coroner’s Court, Coroner David Hinchcliffe heard that had Mrs Summers’ symptoms been investigated earlier, then surgery might not even have been needed at all. Her family had raised concerns about her treatment and claim they did not believe they were taken seriously enough by hospital staff.
Mr Hinchcliffe delivered a narrative verdict, which found that the failure to investigate Mrs Summers’ symptoms amounted to a “gross failure to provide or procure basic medical attention to someone in a dependent position....which amounts to neglect.”
Ian Murray, a specialist in the medical law team at Irwin Mitchell, said: “This is an extremely tragic case involving the death of an otherwise fit and healthy mother and grandmother. Her family are distraught and although nothing will ever bring her back, they are desperate to know that no other family will have to endure what they have been through.
“The junior doctor admitting Mrs Summers planned for her to be seen by specialist surgeons and gave evidence that he felt that this should have taken place within four hours. This review did not take place and it was only when Mrs Summers suffered a catastrophic bleed that she was seen by on call surgeons as an emergency. By this time her condition had deteriorated so much that she required emergency surgery to save her life. Subsequently, she underwent three further operations as surgeons battled to save her.
“If she had been seen by specialist surgeons as planned then she could have been treated with drugs or less drastic surgery, and could have survived.
“Patient safety needs to be the number one priority for the NHS. The family is now seeking assurances that lessons will be learned from the errors in this case to ensure that delays such as this cannot happen again.”
Mrs Summers was admitted to Pinderfields Hospital via Accident & Emergency on 23 February 2010, having suffered for two weeks with stomach pains and vomiting. A junior doctor planned for her to be seen by surgeons for investigations but this review was never organised. It was not until 28 February that Mrs Summers suffered from a catastrophic bleed and required emergency surgery from the on call surgeon to save her life.
By this stage Mrs Summers had suffered episodes of vomiting blood and her condition had deteriorated to such an extent that it was not possible to save her, despite four operations to try to control her bleeding, during which time her liver was damaged.
The inquest heard that with earlier treatment Mrs Summers’ ulcer could have been controlled with drugs, and if surgery was needed, then this would have been undertaken before Mrs Summers crashed and when she was in a much better position to survive it due to her young age and otherwise good health.
Mrs Summers left behind a devastated family including three children and one grandchild with a further grandchild on the way. Her sister, Clair Kuyateh, said: “Our whole family has been left devastated by Susan’s death. She has been robbed of precious time with her three children and her grandchildren, and her death has left a massive hole in all our lives.
“We felt that hospital was the best place for Susan, and in the early part of her admission we felt that her condition was not taken seriously enough by the doctors. It is utterly heartbreaking to hear that had our concerns been treated seriously then Susan could still be with us today.
“Nothing will ever be able to bring Susan back but we sincerely hope that by highlighting the tragic circumstances of her death, no other family will have to go through what we have.”