Dying patient left for nine hours

A dying cancer patient who spent nine hours on a hospital trolley in a side-ward before a bed was found for her, is the latest casualty in London's healthcare crisis, and has intensified the row over closures and mergers of the capital's hospitals.

Margaret Curtin, 48, a mother of three, died the next day. Her husband, Michael, said he found her dead in bed on the ward. He had been called to Northwick Park Hospital in north London but says no-one warned him his wife had died.

"I strolled up to her bed and found her dead. I believe it is something I will never recover from," said Mr Curtin, headmaster of the Our Lady of Grace school in Harrow. "Thank God I didn't bring my three small children with me."

Managers at Northwick Park launched an urgent inquiry into Mrs Curtin's death. The trust hospital has a target time of 90 minutes to find a bed for a patient. A spokesman said on 7 March, when Mrs Curtin was admitted, the number of admissions to the hospital was "exceptionally high" at 52, compared with an average of 30.

Mrs Curtin's death raised questions about the ability of the Northwick Park and St Mark's NHS Trust to cope with an increased workload, when the casualty department at nearby Edgeware Hospital closes under Government plans to re-organise London's hospital.

Mrs Curtin had breast cancer that had spread to her bones. She was taken to hospital as she had breathing problems, was admitted at 9.20am, examined by doctors and given a blood test and chest X-ray. For nine hours she lay on the trolley in the A&E Department, according to her husband who stayed with her.

A hospital spokesman said Mrs Curtin was offered a bed in the observation area of the A&E Department at 5pm, but declined it.

Mr Curtin says at 2pm a nurse asked if his wife wanted anything to eat or drink. She asked for soup but the nurse said she could not get it. Mrs Curtin went to Hardy Ward at 6.15pm.

She died the next day from a blood clot on the lungs. Mr Curtin wrote to Michael Cole, chief executive of the trust, on 29 March. A copy of the letter was sent to Mrs Bottomley. The Department of Health declined to comment on the case.

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