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Family Call For Lessons To Be Learned Following Sudden Death Of Well-Respected Lincolnshire GP From Undiagnosed Heart Condition

Inquest Told Doctor Likely To Have Survived If Symptoms Had Been ‘Appropriately Investigated’


Andrew Hewitt, Press Officer | 0114 274 4255

A family is calling for lessons to be learned after an inquest heard that an emergency operation to repair a GP’s serious undiagnosed heart condition could have saved his life.

Dr Mark Howard, a highly-respected family doctor, was found collapsed by his wife, Michaela Howard, at their home near Lincoln. She called an ambulance and started performing CPR. However, paramedics were unable to resuscitate the father-of-two.

Three days earlier the 45-year-old had been discharged from Lincoln County Hospital where he had been admitted after collapsing at home. An inquest was told that he had an aortic dissection but his discharge note merely stated that Mark had lost consciousness following an irregular heart rate. 

Following Mark’s death, Michaela, a primary school teacher, instructed expert medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the care her husband received from United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust and to support her family through the inquest process.

Michaela, 45, has now joined her legal team at Irwin Mitchell in calling on the Hospital Trust to learn lessons from her husband’s death.
It comes after a two-day inquest where evidence was heard from the treating doctors at Lincoln County Hospital and expert evidence obtained by the Coroner.
The Coroner, Paul Smith, recorded a narrative verdict. He concluded that it was “more likely than not” Mark would have undergone successful surgery if his condition had been diagnosed when he was admitted to hospital.

Expert Opinion
“Michaela and the rest of the family have been left devastated by Mark’s sudden death and had a number of concerns about the care he received in the days before he died.

“Sadly, the inquest has validated those concerns. The family believe that Mark was seriously let down and that much more could have been done to diagnose his condition, and more than likely prevent his death.

“However, Mark was a great advocate of the NHS, so the last thing Michaela and the family want is for there to be a loss of confidence in health services. People still need to seek medical help where appropriate.

“Michaela and her boys just hope that lessons are learned to ensure that no one else faces the failings that led to Mark’s death, and that no family has to go through the same intense degree of pain that they have experienced.”
Tania Harrison, Associate Solicitor

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in handling medical negligence cases 

Mark was a senior partner at Welton Family Health Centre and a director of a federation of GP practices in Lincolnshire. He was also an assistant Scout leader.

He had started complaining of mild chest and back pain, which he initially thought may have been a pulled muscle, during a skiing holiday in France in February. He returned home on 17th February.

The following day, Mark collapsed at home with severe chest pains and lost consciousness, an inquest at Lincoln Coroner’s Court was told.

Shortly after arriving at Lincoln County Hospital, he collapsed again. Mark was admitted and underwent a series of basic tests.

It was recommended that he be admitted to the Coronary Care Unit and that a cardiology review take place. However, no beds were available because of the number of patients who had suffered heart attacks, the hearing was told.

On 19th February Mark was discharged following a morning ward round, with no further investigations or attempts to contact the Cardiology Department.

On 22nd February Michaela returned to work. During morning break, she tried to call Mark but got no answer. She rushed home immediately and found him unconscious; she called for help and carried out CPR until the paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead approximately 30 minutes later.

Dr Sagar Doshi, a consultant cardiologist, was instructed by Lincolnshire Coroner Paul Smith to investigate Mark’s death.

In a report, he said Mark had a number of the most common signs of a torn aorta, including sudden severe chest pain, back pain, low blood pressure and complete loss of consciousness.

He would have expected the hospital staff to be aware of the symptoms of a torn aorta, adding that there, “appeared to have been little consideration” to this as a diagnosis. Staff were more focused on ruling out that Mark had suffered a heart attack, the report said, and they failed to consider any other diagnosis.

Dr Doshi said that a CT heart scan following Mark’s hospital admission would have detected his condition and he would have been referred for emergency surgery.

The consultant added he would have expected Mark to have survived the emergency surgery because he was a young man in good health.

Dr Doshi concluded that if Mark had “been appropriately investigated” and appropriate action taken “he would, on a balance of probabilities, still be alive today.”

After the hearing Michaela said: “When I tried to call Mark and he did not answer, I immediately knew that something was very wrong.

“Finding Mark’s body and carrying out CPR was extremely traumatic. Words are inadequate to describe how devastating this was, compounded with then having to break the news to my boys that their father had died.

“All our lives have been torn apart by Mark’s sudden death. Mark had been fit, well and active. He regularly visited the gym, and never smoked.

“I firmly believe that Mark and I would have sought further medical help in the hours of his life which remained after his discharge from hospital if he had not been given a false diagnosis. For us, at the time, it explained why he was feeling so unwell. He was hugely respectful of the patient/doctor relationship and as he was the patient in this instance, he entrusted himself to the care and expertise of his colleagues.

“Mark deeply cared about helping those in need, so it is difficult not to feel that when my husband needed the care of his fellow health professionals, he was badly let down. Our family feels that if Mark had received the care he should have, my husband would still be alive and my sons would still have their father.

“All our family can hope for now is that Mark’s death was not totally in vain and that the Hospital Trust learns from this to improve patient care.”