Widower Raises Care Concerns to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
A pensioner complaining of severe abdominal pain died after suffering a perforated gallbladder days after a hospital, which did not have any scan appointments available, sent her home.
Shirley Sledmere died three days after she was discharged from London’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Doctors examined her but were unable to carry out an ultrasound to help diagnose her condition.
The hospital decided that Shirley, 79, from Sidcup, south east London, could be sent home rather than be admitted for observation. However, she was still in pain on the day after her discharge so her husband Alan booked her in for a private ultra sound.
Shirley collapsed at home and died the day before she was due to have the scan.
Following her death Alan, who instructed specialist medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his wife’s care, wrote to his MP James Brokenshire, who wrote to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt with his concerns.
Replying to Alan, Mr Hunt said although the availability of scanning machines was a decision for individual NHS Trusts, “the general expectation” throughout the NHS was that patients attending busy 24-hour A&E departments “should have immediate access to haematology, clinical biochemistry, microbiology, blood transfusion, X-ray and CT scanning services.”
Expert OpinionAlan and the rest of the family have been left devastated by Shirley’s death and feel that more should have been done to help diagnose her condition.
“They feel that if Shirley had been admitted to a ward, ongoing observations would have picked up her underlying gallbladder infection which rapidly escalated, leading to perforation. Shirley would then have received suitable medical care to treat her condition.
“An internal investigation carried out by Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust found areas of concern regarding her care and states an ultrasound would probably have picked up Shirley’s inflamed gallbladder, meaning she would have been admitted and there may have been an opportunity to alter the outcome.
“We are now investigating these concerns and call on the NHS Trust to ensure it implements the recommendations made in its report to help prevent other families suffering the pain that Alan has following Shirley's death.” Kimberley Nightingale - Solicitor
Shirley was married to Alan for nearly 24 years.
She was taken by ambulance to A&E at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich in the early hours of 3 November, 2016, complaining of severe abdominal pain. She was diagnosed as having either gallstones or gastritis and sent home later that morning.
Shirley visited her GP the following day with the same symptoms. Alan booked his wife in for a private scan on Monday, 7 November, 2016. However, her pain was so unbearable he again called for an ambulance on the Sunday. By the time paramedics arrived Shirley had died.
Following her death Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust carried out an internal investigation.
A Concise Investigation Report said that an ultrasound would probably have picked up Shirley’s inflamed gallbladder, meaning she would have been admitted and “there may have been an opportunity to alter the outcome.”
Shirley’s underlying health issues, including having a pacemaker and taking steroids and immunosupressants in the presence of other medical factors including a raised white blood cell count, “may in some circumstances, have lowered the threshold for admission,” the report found.
The report found that although there were “no absolute indications for admission” there were aspects of her symptoms that also should have led to caution when discharging her home. The investigation found no written evidence in her notes regarding staff telling Shirley and Alan of the warning signs to look for.
Shirley’s death may have been avoided if an ultrasound had been available and the hospital ensured the couple had been given and understood “clear instructions” of what to do if her condition deteriorated, the report found.
The report recommended staff are available to carry out emergency ultrasounds to patients requiring review and all advice given to patients on their discharge must be documented.
Alan said: “I cannot believe the pain and suffering Shirley had to go through in the final days of her life.
“I cannot begin to put into words what it was like watching her die in front of me while waiting for the ambulance. I felt so powerless that I was unable to help Shirley when she needed it the most.
“Our family have been left devastated by Shirley’s death. We feel that if Shirley had received an ultrasound when she was first admitted to hospital, doctors could have realised the seriousness of her condition and not sent her home. We feel that doctors would then have been able to spot the warning signs and taken appropriate action and she may still be alive.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling medical negligence cases.