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South Wootton woman felt 'robbed of her life' after injury at hospital, inquest hears

By Lynn News Reporter

A South Wootton woman said she felt she had been “robbed of her life by a negligent nurse” after she was injured in hospital, an inquest has heard.

Ruth Whitmore, 91, died of pneumonia at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital on April 13 last year, after originally being admitted on January 1.

The hospital's chief executive has since apologised to Mrs Whitmore's family and said the incident "should not have happened".

King's Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital
King's Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Senior coroner for Norfolk Jacqueline Lake now plans to write reports to help improve certain procedures at the QEH.

The inquest at Lynn’s Magistrates Court on Thursday heard that in the early hours of January 7, 2018, a male healthcare assistant on the Leverington escalation ward was helping Mrs Whitmore in her bed, but her left leg became caught in a bed rail, which left her with “significant bruising”.

In a statement she wrote before she died, Mrs Whitmore said until the injury she had been living a “perfectly normal life” and was enjoying spending time with her family, but had been unable to walk after the injury.

Mrs Whitmore said when her leg had become trapped, she asked the assistant to remove it but he did not respond, and she had to manoeuvre to release her leg herself.

Another member of staff later saw the bump on Mrs Whitmore’s leg and called for a senior nurse, after which a doctor was called to inspect the injury and it was found that she had a haematoma.

The inquest heard that prior to the injury, there had been a plan in place for Mrs Whitmore to return home, but this did not happen and her condition deteriorated after developing pneumonia.

“I feel very bitter, I have been robbed of my life due to the negligence of a nurse,” Mrs Whitmore said in her statement.

The inquest heard from the clinical staff on duty on the ward when the incident occurred, including staff nurse Anet Chacko, and healthcare assistants Anna Mank, Nobin Mathew and Paul Marks, but in live evidence they said they could recall either very little or nothing at all.

The court also heard Ms Chacko was unaware she was the nurse in charge during the shift, and that staff’s statements on what happened were not requested until October last year.

The statements were requested by hospital staff after the first hearing of the inquest was adjourned in August, when the coroner requested further evidence to be obtained as an investigation into the incident was deemed to be insufficient in detail.

Matron Karen Strong said a number of new procedures are now in place to help prevent incidents such as this from happening again.

Coroner Mrs Lake, while summing up the evidence, said Mrs Whitmore was a “bright and independent” lady.

She said Mrs Whitmore died on April 13 of pneumonia, and contributing factors to her death were the “traumatic left leg haematoma”, old age and frailty, pulmonary embolism and congestive cardiac failure.

Mrs Lake said her conclusion was natural causes contributed to by a traumatic leg injury.

She said she did not propose to add negligence to the conclusion and she recognised that action had been taken by the QEH, but she did propose to write two reports, one regarding investigations undertaken by the hospital following a patient’s death and another to help ensure medical staff know when they are in charge of a ward.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Tim Deeming of Tees Law, said: “Mrs Whitmore’s family believe that their mum was let down by the very people who were meant to be caring for her.

“Whilst nothing can change what happened to her, the trust and the NHS as a whole need to learn from this.

“The inquest has been extremely difficult for the family to get through.

“She was a much-loved mother and grandmother and no one should suffer as Mrs Whitmore and the family have suffered.”

Mr Deeming also said the incident has “left a whole family devastated”.

He said: “We are grateful that the coroner has called for further steps to be considered by the hospital managers, taking into account how this incident arose, the inadequate investigation that took place by the hospital, which is accepted by them, and that it is of grave concern that the senior nurse in charge of the ward that night did not appreciate that she was in a leadership role.

“Such concerns, as already highlighted by the CQC report of September 2018, have to enable change to be undertaken proactively and promptly to ensure that patient safety is improved.”

QEH chief executive Caroline Shaw said: “I would like to apologise to the family of Mrs Whitmore for the incident in which her leg was caught in a bed rail. This should not have happened while Mrs Whitmore was in our care.

“The trust takes all cases of this nature very seriously and always looks for ways in which we can learn and improve the care we give to our patients.

“We will also be taking on board the comments made by the coroner. I would like to send my condolences to the family.”

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