Sunday, March 22, 2009

Report in Britain links hospital neglect to deaths of people with intellectual disabilities

From The Sunday Times in the UK:

Vulnerable patients with learning disabilities have died because of neglect in NHS hospitals, an official report is expected to say this week.

The report by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman will find widespread failures by doctors and nurses to care properly for people who are mentally handicapped.

The inquiry began after a report by the charity Mencap, Death by Indifference, found six patients had died through neglect while in NHS care.

One man, Martin Ryan, 43, from Surrey, died after he starved for 26 days while in Kingston hospital following a stroke. Staff had failed to use a nasal feeding tube to prevent his condition from deteriorating. This left Ryan too weak to undergo surgery to have a tube inserted into his stomach.

Kingston hospital NHS Trust has apologised and says it has improved care for such patients. Another patient, Emma Kemp, 26, from Buckinghamshire, died from cancer in 2004 after doctors said she had a 50% chance of survival but delayed treatment, the charity claims. Doctors believed Kemp, who had behavioural problems, would not cooperate. Mencap did not say which hospital she was in.

The three other cases the watchdog examined follow similar patterns, with warnings ignored or problems missed until it was too late.

The watchdog is likely to find NHS failings were responsible for some but not all of the six deaths. An earlier independent inquiry by Sir Jonathan Michael, managing director of BT Health, found that although people with learning disabilities had more physical health problems than the general population, they received less effective treatment.

Michael found “appalling examples of discrimination, abuse and neglect”.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said: “Mencap’s Death by Indifference report exposed the horrendous deaths of six people with a learning disability who suffered a catalogue of neglect while in NHS care.”

Mencap is calling for disciplinary action against the doctors and nurses responsible.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Preventable deaths of people with learning disabilities are absolutely unacceptable. We are now taking action that will lead to people with learning disabilities getting equal access to healthcare”