Harry had been admitted to Birmingham Heartlands Hospital six days earlier following a fall at home. He became increasingly unwell and confused whilst in hospital but was being treated with antibiotics. It was noted in his medical records that Harry was drowsy and was ‘unsafe to feed’. His doctors therefore decided that a nasogastric tube, which allows liquid food to be inserted into a patient’s stomach via a tube inserted through a nostril, should be used, if Harry was able to tolerate it.
Problems with insertion of the nasogastric tube
Harry’s family were with him on 3 November 2017 when a nurse attempted to insert the tube. The procedure was done in private with only Harry and the nurse behind a curtain. Immediately after that procedure, Harry’s daughter noticed blood on the bed when she went to say goodbye to her father. Naturally concerned, she asked what had happened. The nurse indicated that something was blocking the tube from entering Harry’s stomach and more than one attempt to insert it had been made. Lesley was however reassured that her father was fine and left the ward.
Shortly after she arrived back home Lesley was told that she needed to return to the hospital urgently, but sadly her father had passed away by the time she arrived.
Post mortem conclusion raises concerns
Lesley became concerned about the circumstances surrounding her father’s death and made a complaint to the Patient Advisory Liaison Service (known as ‘PALS’) who informed HM Coroner for Birmingham and Solihull. An inquest was opened and the family consented to a post mortem. The pathologist who undertook the investigation suggested that Harry had died due to choking on blood caused by a nose bleed during attempts to insert the nasogastric tube.
Jean and the family instructed Shoosmiths LLP to investigate the circumstances surrounding Harry’s death in January 2017. Rebecca Sellers, a specialist in medical negligence, acted on their behalf. The first issue she had to deal with was representing the family at inquest, which was scheduled to take place less than a month later on 16 February 2018.
Counsel was instructed to represent Harry’s family at the inquest which took place at Birmingham Coroner’s Court. The coroner heard evidence from Lesley, the pathologist and three clinicians from Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, including the nurse who inserted the nasogastric tube and the consultant in charge of Harry’s care. Statements were obtained from other clinicians who had been involved.
Harry’s doctors had suggested to the coroner that the cause of death should be recorded as pneumonia and heart failure. However, in a narrative verdict, the coroner concluded that the evidence given by the nurse was not reliable. The nurse’s description of what had occurred and the conversations that took place differed substantially from Lesley’s recollection of events - to which the corner preferred to give more credence.
The coroner also criticised the record keeping of the clinicians and the nurse involved in Mr Myatt’s care. As a result, the coroner concluded that the cause of Harry’s death was due to complications of a necessary medical treatment.
Shoosmiths conclude the civil claim
Following the Inquest, independent expert medical evidence was obtained and a formal letter setting out allegations of negligence was served on the hospital. A few months later the hospital responded accepting liability for causing Harry’s death.
Negotiations took place with the hospital’s solicitors and a five-figure settlement was agreed in February 2019. Whilst no amount of money could compensate for the loss of a husband and father, the award enabled Harry’s family to cover the cost of his funeral so that they could give their loved one the dignified farewell he deserved.
Sadly, shortly after the claim concluded Lesley’s mother Jean also passed away after a long struggle with cancer. While the conclusion of the claim gave the family some sort of closure, Lesley has now raised a complaint about the conduct of the nurse who inserted the nasogastric tube with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and awaits their response.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023