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Patient Prevented From Dying With Dignity After Doctors Failed To Turn Off Defibrillator

Tameside Hospital Introduces Extra Checks After Terminally Ill Man Suffers 31 Electric Shocks In Two Days


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The devastated family of a brain tumour patient who was prevented from passing away peacefully because doctors failed to turn off a defibrillator implant keeping him alive say they are ‘extremely disappointed’ that they have yet to receive a direct apology from the NHS trust responsible for his care.

Brian Williams from Manchester was admitted to Tameside Hospital in April 2012 after collapsing at home and when doctors at the hospital carried out scans they discovered he was suffering from a terminal brain tumour. 

As his condition deteriorated, the 77-year-old’s family was told he was unlikely to pull through and the heart-breaking decision was taken to stop treatment and allow him to die peacefully on an End of Life Care Pathway.

However doctors failed to take the necessary action to shut down a heart defibrillator that had been fitted six years earlier and expert medical evidence shows Brian received 31 internal electric shocks in his final two days causing unnecessary pain and suffering as his seven children watched on.

The family instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office to investigate his care after being concerned about how the End of Life Care plan was administrated. Tameside NHS Foundation Trust has since admitted that staff failed to identify the defibrillator and switch it off at the appropriate time and has agreed an undisclosed out-of-court settlement with the family.

Lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have since been told that the NHS Trust has written to all its doctors, palliative care nurses and managers to make them aware of the case and put procedures in place to ensure patients on the End of Life Care Pathway are checked for defibrillator devices – but the family say they are yet to receive an apology from the Trust and want to raise awareness of the case.

Ayse Ince, a specialist medical lawyer from Irwin Mitchell representing the family, said: “This is a very tragic case in which the family had to watch as their terminally ill father endured a painful and inhumane death – quite the opposite of what was intended by medical staff.

“The care he received on the End of Life Care Pathway was simply unacceptable. Mr Williams’ medical records, and the scars on his chest, should have indicated that he had a defibrillator fitted but doctors failed to recognise this and didn’t arrange for it to be switched off.

“The family were also concerned that their complaints about their father’s ‘shocks’ and reports that at times he was jumping off the bed were ignored and it was only when one of his son-in-laws received a shock from holding his hand that staff realised what was happening.

“The family know that nothing can change what happened to their father in his final days but they wanted answers about what happened and assurances that improvements would be made so that no one else suffers the same way in future.

“The Trust has since said it has made changes following Brian’s death to ensure patients on the End of Life Care Pathway are checked for defibrillator devices and has written to all relevant staff to make them aware. It is now important that this information is shared on a national level too to avoid any potential issues in other regions too.”

Lynda Beresford, one of Brian’s seven children, says she and six of her brothers and sisters will never forget witnessing the horror of their much-loved dad in such distress. They say they have never had an apology and want assurances that lessons have been learnt from the case.

Lynda, 58, from Hattersley Hyde, said: “The whole family are absolutely devastated by the nature of my dad’s death and the care he received at Tameside Hospital. His medical records should have showed that he had suffered problems with his heart in the past and had a defibrillator so we couldn’t believe checks were not made to ensure it was switched off so that he could pass away peacefully.

“We even asked about what would happen but they said it wouldn’t be strong enough to affect his passing away.

“Instead we had to see him suffer as the defibrillator shocked him back to life more than 30 times in just two days. We realised what was happening to my dad when a family member got a shock when he touched him but the signs were there that something was wrong and the hospital should have acted sooner.

“Those last two days were just horrendous and it is something that will live with all of us forever. My dad’s final wish for a dignified death was cruelly taken away from him. While we can’t change the past, we just want assurances that the hospital trust has taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again so that other families don’t have to go through the terrible ordeal of seeing a loved one die in this way.”

Mr Williams had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour and as his condition worsened a doctor signed the End of Life Care Pathway agreement on 28 April 2012 to allow all of his medication, treatment, and interventions to be stopped.
However the doctor recorded that there was no cardiac defibrillator present and it was only two days later on 30th April that they noticed he had the device fitted after a member of his family complained of an electric shock when holding his father’s hand.

A full review of the cardiac defibrillator, known as an Internal Cardiac Defibrillator (“ICD”), confirmed that in total, Mr Williams was subjected to more than 31 separate and inappropriate electric shocks due to the failure to inactivate the ICD. Once it was finally deactivated Mr Williams died within a few hours.

The NHS says the End of Life Care Pathway “aims to ensure that high quality, person-centred care is provided which is well planned, co-ordinated and monitored” and was created to help people provide care to those nearing the end of their life.

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