Medical Law Experts Say Family Need Proof Lessons Have Been Learnt To Accept Their Loss
By Helen MacGregor
The heartbroken family of an elderly woman who died after her ‘horrific’ bedsores became infected have slammed the nursing home and hospital trust that were responsible for her care and have spoken of their anger that they have still not had an apology over three years on.
Dementia sufferer Hazel Fryers was admitted to Princess Lodge Care Home in Old Town, Swindon, in May 2009 where a risk assessment highlighted she was at ‘very high’ risk of developing pressure sores and she should be moved every two hours.
But the 83-year-old died from blood poisoning caused by infected ‘rotting’ wounds just 10 months later leaving her family desperate for answers as to whether more could have been done to prevent her death.
Hazel’s daughter Sue McMahon instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell who have secured an undisclosed settlement for their loss but the family say they are appalled at Life Style Care PLC (the owner of the home) and Swindon Primary Care Trust’s refusal to admit responsibility and the money means nothing without an apology and proof lessons have been learnt.
This is despite a Coroner describing the grandmother of two’s death as ‘highly preventable’ during the inquest in July 2010.
Andrew Bowman, a specialist medical lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office representing Hazel’s family, said: “This is a terrible case that saw an old lady die in an undignified and painful way when she was at her most vulnerable.
“What makes it worse is that our investigations and the Coroner found evidence that staff at the home and the specialist nurse from the Trust could have done more to prevent and treat Hazel’s pressure sores.
“Despite this evidence, both have refused to admit any responsibility for Hazel’s death which has resulted in a long and unnecessary battle for justice for her devastated family, which we find appalling.”
Hazel’s daughter Sue, 56, from Nailsea in Bristol, said: “We are absolutely appalled at the way my mum was treated by the very people who were employed to care for her.
“My brother became her full time carer after she was diagnosed with dementia in 2005 but it got to the point where she was unable to talk or wash herself and she was incontinent. She then fell and broke her hip and we were advised that she needed specialist help.
“We became concerned after a couple of months of her being in Princess Lodge because we noticed she was losing weight and then the home told us she had developed pressure sores. We were disappointed as the staff said they were doing everything they could to prevent them.
“But Mum was becoming sicker and we were absolutely appalled when one of the nurses told us that the wounds were starting to rot. It was horrific but we felt utterly helpless.”
She added: “Knowing she died in such an undignified way has been incredibly hard to accept - she didn’t deserve it. But what is most disgusting is the fact no one is willing to hold their hands up and say mistakes were made or apologise to us for our loss. It’s like another kick in the teeth and we have lost all faith in the care system for the elderly.
“The money brings the legal proceedings to a close but means nothing without an apology and gives us no reassurance that improvements have been made to prevent any other family going through a similar tragedy.”
On arrival at Princess Lodge, Hazel was given a pressure cushion to use when she was sat on her armchair and a pressure bed – both designed to reduce the risk of sores developing.
But the bed only worked when it was set to the same weight as the patient and on several occasions, it was found to be set to more than twice the weight of Hazel which would have caused more damage than not having a bed at all.
To make matters worse, staff at the home were aware Hazel had pressure sores developing on her bottom and hips, but waited until the skin had split and broken before calling the tissue viability nurse for help.
Investigations led by Irwin Mitchell found the nurse then failed to adequately assess the severity of the wounds and failed to treat them appropriately, using creams and dressings that increased the risk of infection.
Andrew Bowman at Irwin Mitchell added: “Sadly we continue to be contacted by distraught families who are desperate for answers about the loss of a loved one caused by pressure sores – an injury completely preventable. No amount of money can make up for this loss and we believe Hazel’s family are owed an apology for what happened as until then, it will be incredibly hard for them to move forward with their lives.”
Read more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise relating to Fatal Claims and Pressure Sore Claims.