A Hospital Trust has admitted sending a man home after suffering a heart attack without referring him to a cardiologist, as doctors believed he was suffering from angina.
The mistake at Royal Derby Hospital’s accident and emergency department meant the 45-year-old patient had to suffer a further five weeks before being correctly diagnosed – a period his solicitor said could have led to ‘serious consequences’
The man had been taken to hospital by ambulance after complaining of pains in his arm and elbow, with ambulance staff suspecting a possible heart attack.
He was given morphine and sent for an x-ray, and despite tests showing dangerously high protein levels (troponin) in his blood – which are linked to heart muscle damage – doctors dismissed it being a heart attack.
Instead, they diagnosed angina, a chest pain which occurs when the blood supply to the muscles of the heart is restricted, and sent him home.
Still feeling unwell the next day, the man contacted his GP who was shocked by the treatment and advised him to go back to the hospital.
However, when he called the hospital consultant, he was told his GP must refer him to a cardiologist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, causing another five week wait.
Only then was the man told by a cardiologist that he had suspected coronary artery disease.
A coronary angiogram – an X-ray to check if coronary arteries are blocked or narrowed – confirmed he had indeed suffered a heart attack and should have been kept in Royal Derby Hospital on first admission.
As a result he underwent a procedure to improve the blood flow to his heart, treating the narrowing and blockage of his coronary arteries.
Following legal action through medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has now agreed a damages settlement with the man.
‘It’s scary to think what could have happened. I could have died’
The man, a photographer from the West Midlands, who now needs to take aspirin for the rest of his life for blood thinning, said he can’t forgive Royal Derby Hospital for not carrying out proper checks.
He said: “It is scary to think what could have happened as a result. If I was in an accident in Derby now, I would drag myself over the border to prevent having to go to that hospital again. I would not trust a word they said as they were very unprofessional.
“The blood tests they took suggested that I’d had a heart attack. At the very least, they should have kept me in hospital and made sure I saw a cardiologist.
“When I went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham it was a different story and they were fantastic from start to finish. I heard the cardiologist there say I could have died. I’m not a person who is easily shocked, but I was stunned. You couldn’t make up what happened to me.
“When I tell people my story, it’s like a comedian is telling it on a stage. I can’t think of anything that went right. I was so annoyed with them because they put me in danger and didn’t follow basic medical procedures.”
The man said he clearly remembers feeling unwell two days before he was admitted to hospital, on November 16, 2014, after walking into a nearby ambulance station with pains.
“I was feeling rough, had a pain in my elbow and people said I didn’t look very well, so I took some pain killers,” he said.
“I was very restless and I said to my wife that it I felt like I was having a heart attack. She had to take over from me driving. It was then I called into an ambulance station and they checked me over and took me to Derby Hospital.
“When I was admitted, they said it was angina and they weren’t interested it in it being a heart attack. They did an ECG, a blood test and gave me blood thinners but I was allowed to walk off down the corridor to X-ray despite having had a suspected heart attack and being on morphine.
“When I finally got to see a cardiologist he said I’d definitely had a heart attack the month before when I first went to hospital and shouldn’t have been discharged.
“I was left too long and I could have potentially died. They found I had a critical blockage in a branch off my main artery, so I had to have that unblocked.
“It’s depressing because now I constantly question things. These people should know what they’re doing. My experience has made me feel like medicine is a guessing game.”
Legal case highlighted failings and resulted in Trust admitting breach of duty of care
As part of the legal case against the Trust it was alleged doctors failed to correctly diagnose the man, failed to refer him for a senior review from a consultant and failed to admit him for a further cardiac assessment with a cardiologist.
In addition, it was alleged the Trust failed to prescribe conventional medication, which any patient with unstable cardiac symptoms would normally be given, failed to arrange tests within 72 hours and wrongly discharged him from hospital.
It was alleged that had he been correctly diagnosed with a heart attack, on the balance of probabilities, he would have started on therapy for signs and symptoms, as well as medication. He would also have been referred to a cardiologist and seen the next day, undergoing treatment. Instead, he suffered for five further weeks, delaying treatment.
Solicitor Michelle Tebbutt, who handled the legal case on behalf of the patient, said the failings had put him in danger when the warning signs of a heart attack where clear.
She said: “While we can’t compensate for what could have happened, the reality of the matter is a heart attack is a medical emergency and my client could have died in this case as a result of the errors that were made.
“Fortunately, he has suffered no significant long term physical damage, but the consequences could have been so much more serious. It is simply unacceptable for hospitals not to be carrying out relevant examinations with specialists, especially when there are tests pointing to further concerns.
“Anyone who is suspected of having a heart attack should be under close monitoring and should not be sent home without further and thorough investigation taking place. My client found himself in a very scary situation when not referred to a cardiologist. Lessons really need to be learned.”
The man praised Hudgell Solicitors for holding the hospital to account for its actions.
“Michelle was very professional and she’s very good at what she does” he said.
“From start to finish, my dealings with her were spot on and she was very polite and pleasant and made sure the hospital did not get away with it.”