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‘Unnecessary Death Is Tragic Example Of Poor NHS Care At The Weekend’, says Expert Lawyer

Father-Of-Two Died Following Fatal Misdiagnosis By Junior Doctors


By Helen MacGregor

Lawyers representing the wife of a father-of-two who died because junior doctors made a series of errors during his treatment have demanded urgent action to tackle high weekend death rate figures to prevent further ‘unnecessary’ deaths.

Peter Eustace, from Pontefract, died in October 2010 after junior doctors working on a Sunday failed to realise he was bleeding internally, instead diagnosing him as suffering from either a blood clot or an infection. They consequently failed to initiate vital treatment – which proved fatal for Mr Eustace.  
His devastated wife Alyson instructed Anna Bosley, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, to investigate whether more could have been done to prevent the 57-year-old’s death.

Irwin Mitchell has now secured the family a five-figure settlement from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust but says lessons must be learnt across the NHS to prevent any other patients dying needlessly on a weekend due to the mistakes of inexperienced staff.

Anna, from Irwin Mitchell, said: “This case is yet another example of a patient losing his life because he was unlucky enough to suffer an injury at midnight on a Sunday, when staffing levels in hospitals are too low and inexperienced junior doctors are covering a wide range of wards without the support they need to treat specialist patients.
“Action must be taken immediately throughout the NHS to ensure every patient has access to the best standards of care possible, every day of the week.”

Peter, who worked as a Manager for Wakefield City Council, was admitted to St James’ University Hospital on 20 October 2010 for a lung biopsy and chest drain after suffering from breathlessness and coughing for months.

Despite being classed as high risk due to his breathing difficulties, Peter recovered well and was told he would be fine to be discharged at the start of the following week.

On the Sunday morning his chest drain was removed but by 11.30pm that evening he complained of breathlessness and chest pains. He went into cardiac arrest at 2am.

Two junior doctors working on the ward that night contacted the thoracic surgical registrar who had seen Peter earlier that day, to discuss their treatment plan – which was to prescribe him a blood thinning drug and administer pain killers and oxygen. The registrar did not visit Peter and did not discuss any alternative diagnoses with the junior doctors. He simply approved their treatment plan.

Sadly Peter was in fact bleeding into his lung caused by the removal of the chest drain earlier in the day. He should have been given a blood transfusion, had his lung drained and, had the bleeding not stopped, been returned to theatre. He died at 2.30am of internal bleeding despite resuscitation attempts.

Alyson, who had been married to Peter for 31 years, said: “We remain appalled at the treatment Peter received and it is still very difficult to come to terms with the fact that if the chest drain had been removed on a week day and he experienced those problems, it’s highly likely he would still be alive today.

“The whole family cannot understand why more is not being done to tackle weekend death rates as it’s clear the government is aware of the issue yet it seems nothing is being done to improve levels of staff on hospital wards.

“Sadly, it’s too late for Peter but change needs to happen now before any other families are left in the same situation as us.

“Peter was a good man, devoted to his family and his job at the council. We wish so much that he was still with us but the one thing that will help us come to terms with what happened is knowing his death was not in vain and that lessons have been learnt to protect others.”

Anna Bosley at Irwin Mitchell added: “Peter’s wife has lost her best friend and her daughters have lost a supportive, ‘hands-on’ dad whose first priority was his family.

“It is extremely difficult for Peter’s family knowing that had he deteriorated during daylight hours on a weekday, it is highly likely that he would have been treated by someone able to recognise the symptoms of post-surgical bleeding and he probably would still be alive today.

“Until that point, Peter had received excellent treatment from different respiratory specialists but he was let down at the crucial moment through an ongoing, inexcusable issue of weekend staffing levels and a whole family has lost a loved one unnecessarily.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to medical negligence claims