Sunderland hospital “sorry” after errors contributed to pensioner’s death

Jean James with husband John.
Jean James with husband John.
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THE family of a Sunderland pensioner whose death was contributed to by errors made at Sunderland Royal Hospital have received an out-of-court settlement.

Changes have also been made to procedures and hospital bosses have apologised after Jean James, 75, died last year after medics failed to give her medication to prevent blood clots.

We were devastated by my wife’s death and are still trying to come to terms with it now.

John James

The mother-of–two who had mobility problems and Alzheimer’s had been staying at Witherwack carehome Maple Lodge for several months when she was admitted to the hospital on Christmas Eve, 2013, suffering from a chest infection.

After a few days of treatment, Mrs James’s chest improved, but she died on January 8, 2014, of deep vein thrombosis, after the hospital failed to prescribe medication to guard against the risks of blood clots.

An inquest, in March last year, was critical of her basic care and concluded that she died of “natural causes contributed to by neglect”, and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust has now admitted that there were failures in her care and agreed an out-of-court settlement with the family.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell on behalf of Mrs James’s family alleged that staff failed to prescribe treatment to combat the risk of blood clots in her veins. The ‘safety nets’ in place to safeguard this oversight also failed as it was not checked on the first ward rounds and then again during a pharmacy check.

Sunderland coroner Derek Winter concluded that it took too long to complete Mrs James’ admission details due to the doctor being interrupted approximately five time and this had led to the mistake in not prescribing the appropriate medication. He also said the omission was not subject to any effective review by a clinician or nurse, and that when pharmacy raised a query it was not properly communicated.

Further, he ruled that the systems that were in place were not sufficiently robust to deal with human errors.

The trust responded to the coroner, informing him of new systems for identifying patients at risk and that staff across the Trust had been informed of the changes and Mrs James family say they are relieved that changes are being made.

Mrs James’s husband John, 79, said: “We were devastated by my wife’s death and are still trying to come to terms with it now. She was rushed to hospital with a chest infection then died less than 10 days later with blood clots in her veins. We couldn’t understand it.

“The inquest was tough to take in because it showed that there could have been more done to treat Jean and we are pleased that the coroner highlighted the seriousness of what had happened.

“Although we have now settled the case with the NHS Trust, this was never about the money, we just wanted the hospital staff to take responsibility for what happened. We are relieved that changes have been made and we just hope that by taking legal action it will ensure that lessons are learned and that others will not suffer from similar failures in future.”

Medical negligence lawyer Michelle Armstrong, who represents Mrs James’ family, said: “The coroner believed that action needed to be taken to prevent future deaths and wrote to the NHS Trust to demand changes. The Trust responded to the coroner outlining a new system which they say will improve care.

“Because of her condition, Jean was a very vulnerable patient and was completely dependent on staff to care for her. Sadly in this case the inquest has heard that there were a number of errors in her care in regard to medication to prevent serious blood clots.

“The family took legal action because they were concerned that others may suffer in a similar way to Jean and throughout this legal action their ultimate priority has been to find out exactly what went wrong so that lessons could be learned to hopefully prevent future deaths.”

A City Hospital spokesman said: “We can confirm new systems and checks are in place to ensure that similar events do not occur and would once again apologise to the family for the great distress caused in this very tragic case.”