Patient's death prompts £1m hospital boost

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The Independent Online
Britain's largest health authority is expanding its intensive care unit at a cost of £1m after a 67-year-old man died while waiting for an intensive care bed.

Health chiefs in Strathclyde acknowledged that four new ICU beds were needed when the intensive care system, in which the six acute hospitals in Glasgow share 22 beds, collapsed and the pensioner, James McGowan, died.

Mr McGowan had been admitted to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary last year suffering from a life-threatening blocked artery. He did not receive immediate treatment because all the intensive care beds in Glasgow were occupied. As doctors "rang round" local hospitals to find a bed, he died.

The incident, which will be examined in a fatal accident inquiry later this week, prompted Greater Glasgow Health Board to review its intensive care services. In December the board, which provides health care for more than 1m people, agreed to open four new beds at a cost of more than £200,000 each.

Patients at the 800-bed Glasgow Royal Infirmary will be the first to benefit from the new service when two new beds are installed in the hospital's ICU this Saturday. Intensive care staff have welcomed the decision. The existing five permanent beds were,they say, inadequate.

Dr Bill Anderson, clinical director of the hospital's ICU, said: "We were getting uncomfortably close to operating at 90 per cent capacity on average which is far too high. It meant we were having to turn away patients and send them to ICU's at other hospitals on a daily basis."

The expanded unit will be permanently staffed by 12 trained nurses. Dr Anderson said that in the past the hospital had found it hard to recruit specialist ICU staff but recently they had succeeded in re-training their own nurses for the unit.

The hospital had, he added, recently set up a high dependency recovery unit as a "clinical stepping stone" between the ICU and ordinary wards. The new unit enabled doctors to discharge patients from the ICU sooner and with greater confidence that they would survive.

Dr Anderson said there was "little or no" evidence that patients who had a slim chance of survival were taking up ICU beds. He said: "If someone has, for example, a massive brain haemorrhage and we know they will not live, in general, we do not admit them. The same goes for most hospitals in Britain.

"There is a high sickness threshold for admittance to an ICU. Few people are admitted who should not be there."