20 February 2017
Tragic Death Due to Outdated Hospital Transfer Systems
A woman who died after three hospitals refused to admit her for surgery could have been saved, a coroner ruled.
Ms Muldowney was admitted to East Surrey Hospital in Redhill on July 20 last year where doctors immediately suspected a brain haemorrhage. A CT scan revealed heavy bleeds and a request was made that she be transferred to a specialist neurosurgical unit for treatment. St George's Hospital and King's College Hospital in London, and the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton refused the request due to a bed shortage.
At an inquest into her death in coroner, Mary Hassell, reported that if Ms Muldowney had been transferred promptly, surgery probably would have saved her.
Overcrowded hospitals and bed shortages are something currently faced by NHS trusts across the UK. Dangerous overcrowding requires immediate attention so that health professionals have adequate support to do their jobs properly.
I hope that a comprehensive strategy is put in place to assist hospitals and staff when they are presented with an emergency situation like this one, so that future deaths can be avoided.
We handle many cases as a result of medical negligence where treatment has been below an acceptable standard and patients have been injured as a result. However, if funding cuts and overcrowding continue to worsen, it is likely that we will see a sharp rise in claims borne out of those issues, rather than anything a medical professional has or hasn’t done. The coroner’s findings revealed Ms Muldowney “could have been transferred, undergone surgery, spent time in recovery, and then an intensive care bed procured”. It is clear, however, that current hospital practices do not allow for that to happen where a bed is not available at the outset.
In the weeks prior to Christmas, a BBC report revealed thousands of sick patients were being made to wait in A&E for hours after being admitted for emergency treatment. The report stated that nearly 475,000 patients were left waiting for more than four hours for a bed on a ward in 2015-16 – almost five times the number in 2010-11.
Ms Muldowney’s tragic death will likely place further pressure on the government to address recently reported figures suggesting A&E patients in England experienced the worst delays in January since the NHS’s four-hour waiting target was implemented 13 years ago.
Before then, I hope that a comprehensive strategy is put in place to assist hospitals and staff when they are presented with an emergency situation like this one, so that future deaths can be avoided. If funding for more beds is unavailable, it is essential that NHS develops systems that protect patient safety even where bed shortages are a daily problem.
Laura Craig is a senior associate specialising in clinical negligence at Slater and Gordon in London.
The clinical negligence lawyers at Slater and Gordon specialise in claims against the NHS, GPs, private doctors and hospitals arising out of medical negligence.