A Hospital Trust has agreed a £90,000 damages settlement with the family of a patient who fell and broke his hip just hours after being admitted for tests – and died of sepsis two weeks after an operation to fix it.
The 64-year-old patient, whose family have asked not be named, was admitted to South Tyneside District Hospital in November 2016. He had been sent to A&E by his GP as he had been feeling unwell and had a history of poor renal function and chest pains.
The man’s daughter attended with him, handing over a full list of the medications he required and informing the hospital that he needed a wheelchair due to being unsteady on his legs, before returning home to collect him an overnight bag.
However, she was later called by her father to tell her he’d fallen and broken his hip, less than an hour after he’d been transferred from A&E to the hospital’s Emergency Assessment Unit (EAU).
Having undergone total hip surgery his condition then deteriorated rapidly over a number of days as he suffered a perforation of the bowel and developed sepsis. He underwent further emergency bowel surgery but died a day later – two weeks after his initial admission.
The cause of death was recorded as sepsis by an intestinal perforation.
Legal case found fall was a cause of death
Following a successful legal case against South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust, the man’s daughter has said she feels the Trust’s approach, in which all fault was denied for more than three years, was ‘unforgivable’.
The case has particularly highlighted how basic errors can lead to life-threatening conditions developing.
“Throughout all of this I have just wanted people to be open and honest about what happened to my dad, but I don’t feel they ever were,” said the daughter.
“I think it is appalling that my dad fell within an hour of being admitted to the emergency assessment ward. I’d told people in A&E that he had a history of falls, and had even recently been seen at the Falls Unit at the same hospital. His legs simply weren’t strong enough and often would just collapse under him.
“They had all the details in A&E but the staff in the emergency unit obviously didn’t check it and just asked my dad, who had early stages of dementia, a few questions.
“I can’t believe he was allowed to get up and wander out of his bed alone. They should have had a pad on his bed which sounded an alarm at least.
“When he called me to tell me he’d fallen and broken his hip, I thought he was confused as he was frantic and upset.
“I didn’t get a call from the hospital and when I got there they gave me different stories. Firstly I was told he had slipped, then someone said he’d tripped. None of that mattered though as he shouldn’t have been out of bed unattended.
“I have always felt awful for leaving my dad to go and get him his overnight bag and carried that guilt with me, but I don’t any more. You take your loved ones to hospital to be well cared for and to be protected, and it has now been admitted that this didn’t happen for my dad.”
Condition deteriorated rapidly after hip replacement operation
The woman says that following surgery to his broken hip, her father became seriously ill and she knew something was wrong.
“For days specialists were saying to me that my dad was a very ill man, but when I’d taken him into hospital he wasn’t,” she said.
“He’d just been suffering pains which he’d been seen for many times before and been given medication. I knew something had gone badly wrong after the operation but they were saying there was no link at all, claiming it was due to his poor health before he was admitted.
“He wasn’t days from death, he had years left in him. It was that approach from the hospital which made me decide to get legal support.
“Of course I was very angry that he’d been allowed to get out of bed and fall, but I know mistakes happen. I truly believe people just want doctors and nurses to be straight with them and tell it as it is.”
Solicitor hopes to see ‘avoidable errors’ reduced in hospitals.
Allegations that the hospital had been negligent in its failure to prevent the patient from falling, suffering a broken hip and thereafter requiring surgery, were all admitted by the defendant without argument.
Following legal representations from Solicitor Sarah Colgrave, a medical negligence specialist at Hudgell Solicitors, it was then admitted that the fall had also been a contributory factor to the patient’s death.
“We see many cases of serious illness caused by basic errors. Often these mistakes are as a result of staff in hospitals working under immense pressure for long periods, leading to a failure to follow set procedures to protect patients,” said Mrs Colgrave.
“Had the risk assessment been completed correctly, different management would have been used which, on the balance of probabilities, would have prevented his fall and seen this patent treated medically and discharged home.
“Sadly, we also see many cases where Sepsis is ultimately the cause of death. It often develops after surgery and can quickly cause multi-organ failure. It is something everybody needs to be increasingly aware of, from hospital staff to patients and their families.
“We have all seen how valuable our NHS doctors and nurses are in recent times, and nobody working on a hospital ward sets out to make life-changing mistakes. We have to hope that we now see greater funding across our NHS to properly resource our hospitals in the future and reduce the number of incidents like this happening.
“We hope that, by bringing this case to a successful conclusion, families will be aware of the need to ensure vulnerable patients are protected from falls, and that awareness of the killer which is sepsis is also more widely understood.”