‘Failings’ at hospital where Barking woman died after inhaling own vomit

Elsie Brooks, who died in King George Hospital

Elsie Brooks, who died in King George Hospital - Credit: Archant

A widowed ballroom dancer died from blood poisoning after inhaling her own vomit in an understaffed hospital ward, an inquest heard this morning.

Assistant coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe said there had been clear failures during 89-year-old Elsie Brooks’ time at King George Hospital.

Former shipping worker Elsie, who lived in Lambourne Road, Barking, was moved to Erica Ward, a contingency ward set up following an outbreak of norovirus, after abdominal surgery.

Walthamstow Coroner’s Court heard the ward had no senior nurse in charge of the team, which was made up of agency staff and nurses from other departments.

“After my mother inhaled the vomit, she needed emergency treatment,” her youngest daughter, Maggie, told the Post. “But she was left without consultant care for 52 hours while her condition worsened.

“We were left trying to keep her sitting up over the weekend. She lost consciousness but no doctors came.”

By the time Elsie was admitted to intensive care she had developed blood poisoning. She spent three weeks recovering but relapsed, still in hospital, on January 5, 2010 – and died the next day.

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Agatha Pollock, matron at the time, told the inquest staff levels had been “getting dangerous” in the lead-up to Elsie’s death.

“One particular day we were 16 nurses down [at the hospital] and were having difficulty getting agency nurses to fill those roles,” she told the court.

“I raised concerns but was told it was adequate as the ward would only be open a short while.”

Heidi Peakman, deputy nurse of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, issued an apology to the family during the inquest. She said: “We hope to assure you somewhat that we have taken a number of steps to stop this happening again in the future.”

Improvements made since Mrs Brooks’ death include adding an outreach team at both King George and Queen’s hospitals and more beds.

Recording her conclusion, Dr Radcliffe said she could not say for certain if hospital failures caused or contributed to the mum-of-three’s death.

“Clearly if some of the issues had been dealt with adequately Mrs Brooks would have had a better chance of a better outcome,” she added.

She recorded the new cause of death as sepsis and recovering aspiration pneumonia, with secondary causes of incisional hernia repair and chronic asthma.

Speaking after the conclusion, Maggie said: “If you’ve sat on a ward all night long, trying to hold up your mother while she is vomiting and the nurses are refusing to help, you feel it is neglect. It’s always going to feel as if it is.”

An ombudsman’s report previously concluded the hospital’s post-operative care of snooker fan Elsie fell “so far below the applicable standard” it amounted to “service failure”.

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