High Court orders new inquest into death of Barking mother at Goodmayes hospital

Elsie Brooks, who died in King George Hospital. Picture: Supplied

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

The High Court has called for a new inquest into the death of an elderly woman who suffered complications including fatal blood poisoning on an understaffed hospital ward.

Sisters Janet and Margaret Brooks. Picture: Paul Bennett

Sisters Janet and Margaret Brooks. Picture: Paul Bennett - Credit: Archant

Elsie Brooks, 89, of Lambourne Road, Barking, died after breathing in her own vomit at King George Hospital, Goodmayes, eight years ago.

Last month’s ruling follows a prolonged battle by her daughters — Janet, 70, and Maggie, 67 — to uncover the truth surrounding their mother’s death.

They say former shipping worker Elsie, was deemed a “reasonably high risk patient” and should have been placed on a high dependency unit after the operation, as her surgeon advised.

Though her bowel was perforated during surgery for her hernia, hospital staff placed her on a temporary ward with no senior nurse in charge, made up of agency staff and nurses from other departments.

King George Hospital in Goodmayes. Picture: Ken Mears

King George Hospital in Goodmayes. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

While an inquest in November 2014 found “clear failures” in Elsie’s care, assistant coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe did not rule whether these caused or contributed to her death.

The inquest, Janet and Maggie argue, did not include key witnesses or hear from any independent medical expert.

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It took into account a flawed report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, to whom Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), who run King George Hospital, handed only part of her medical records.

“We had to go through all these processes and, actually, none of the facts have really come to light,” said Maggie.

Left with many unanswered questions from the trust’s internal investigation, the pair campaigned for a judicial review, maintaining the inquest failed in its intended “Article 2: right of life” inquiry into whether medics knew — or ought to have known — of a real risk to her life.

To help their application the sisters obtained expert advice critical of the care Elsie received and delays in treatment.

Margaret Hodge, the MP for Barking, joined their cause in 2015, writing to then-attorney general Jeremy Wright: “It seems absolutely clear to me that the original inquiry was insufficient, and that it is in the interests of justice that another inquest be authorised.”

In a rare move earlier this year, the Ombudsman quashed its own report — “which was not to the standard we would expect now,” according to a spokeswoman — and apologised to the family for their handling of the case.

With High Court judges Lord Justice Leggatt and Mr Justice Nicol ruling on July 10 a different coroner should conduct the upcoming inquest, the sisters may finally hear what happened during their mother’s final hours.

“I don’t use words like ‘getting justice’ for my mother because I don’t really see it that way; I see it as getting the truth,” added Maggie.

“I know the trust is beleaguered and under terrific money pressures and staffing pressures and bed pressures, and god knows what — but it doesn’t alter the fact that the truth could have been told in 2010. It could have been told a month after my mother died.”

Gary Etheridge, director of nursing at BHRUT Hospitals, said: “We would like to again take the chance to apologise to Janet and Margaret Brooks for the distress caused as a result of Elsie’s death.

“We have been in regular contact with the family since 2010, informally and through mediation, have answered their questions and kept them up to date with the many improvements we have made since.

“After fully investigating the issues in Elsie’s care we delivered an action plan which included putting additional nursing staff on our wards, introducing a Surgical Operational policy which included more senior doctor cover, and we’ve also increased the number of critical care beds at our hospitals since.

“Other improvements have included an early warning system to more easily identify deteriorating patients and plans to move patients on from intensive care are discussed at every bed meeting.

“Although the lapsed years may make it challenging, we will do our utmost to support any new inquest if one is held.”

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