Hospital admits 'catastrophic error' over death of 100-year-old woman from dehydration

Daughter's pleas for her mother to be put on a drip were repeatedly ignored, family's lawyers said

A hospital has apologised for a "catastrophic error" after a 100-year-old great-grandmother died from dehydration on one of its wards.

Leicester Royal Infirmary bosses admitted the failure after Lydia Spilner was admitted in January last year with a suspected chest infection and dehydration.

Over a four-week period her condition was allowed to deteriorate and her daughter's desperate pleas for her mother to be put on a drip were repeatedly ignored until it was too late, the family's lawyers said.

University Hospitals of Leicestershire NHS Trust has now admitted that Mrs Spilner died due to renal failure caused by dehydration and has paid her family an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.

Mrs Spilner's daughter Nora, from Tilton on the Hill, Leicestershire, said her mother, whose appearance did not betray her 100 years, was also shown little kindness from the nurses caring for her.

Sue Mason, divisional head of nursing at Leicester Hospitals, said: "It's clear that our failure to give Mrs Spilner intravenous fluids was a catastrophic error for which we have apologised. We know that saying sorry won't bring her back but we at least want her family to know that we will not avoid our responsibility. We are truly sorry.

"As regards the equally important issue of the compassion shown to Mrs Spilner, since this happened in 2012, we have changed the nurse leadership on this ward, increased staffing levels and introduced hourly ward rounds.

"Again, we realise these actions will not alter anything for the family but we hope that it shows we take their experience seriously."

In January last year Mrs Spilner developed breathing problems. Doctors suspected a chest infection and possible fluid on the lungs and she was prescribed water tablets.

The medication caused her to suffer severe dehydration and by late January her speech had also became confused, so her family were advised to take her to hospital.

Her daughter said: "The A&E doctors explained that her confused speech was a clear sign she had become dehydrated.

"They put her on a drip and within just two hours she was back to her normal self.

"In hindsight, I wish I had taken her back home then, because I firmly believe I could have taken better care of her and she would still be alive today.

"Instead I put my trust in the hospital and allowed her to be moved to an elderly care ward, thinking she would be in good hands and they would be able to sort out her chest infection."

Mrs Spilner was transferred to ward 31 of Leicester Royal Infirmary, where her daughter visited her every day and said she soon became alarmed that her mother's condition was again deteriorating.

She said: "One afternoon when I visited, I noticed that she had no water near her bed that she could drink.

"I requested a jug from the nurse but she said the jug was broken and they had no others available.

"My mum's skin was becoming dry and cracked and it was clear to me she was very dehydrated. I pleaded with the doctors to put her back on a drip but it took 10 days for them to take action.

"Even then the drip didn't work properly. They first tried to administer it through her leg, which swelled up like a balloon and later they tried her hand and arm but the drip either stopped working properly or made her arm swell."

Almost four weeks after being admitted to hospital, Mrs Spilner died on February 22.

Her cause of death was confirmed as renal failure, combined with poor blood flow to her lower limbs.

She left behind a son and daughter, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She had been widowed in 1970.

Robert Rose, a medical lawyer and partner with Lime Solicitors who represented the family, said Mrs Spilner's case was one of several they have dealt with involving basic failings in elderly care at the same hospital.

"The trust has admitted there were clear failings in the care Lydia received," he said.

"However, the fact that we have dealt with other cases against the same hospital in similar circumstances is of great concern and we are urging the trust to prove to the local community it serves that real improvements have since been made to elderly patient care at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

"Following the well-publicised reports of failings at Mid Staffs Hospital and the Government's call for greater compassion to be demonstrated by the nursing profession, there clearly needs to be a greater focus on standards of patient care and, where failings are identified, tougher action needs to be taken to demonstrate that lessons have indeed been learnt."


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