Elderly patients died after care move: Families complain over the movement of elderly relatives from hospital against the advice of a consultant. Celia Hall reports

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The Independent Online
AN INQUIRY has been launched into the death of eight sick, elderly patients, some of whom were moved into community care against their hospital consultant's

advice.

When the consultant said that six patients at Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke, were too ill to move, the commissioning authority called in an outside mental health consultant and over-ruled the decision. Three patients died within two weeks of the move in March.

All were over 85 and suffering from dementia and multi-physical illnesses.

Four families have complained about the manner of the move, and North and Mid Hampshire Health Commission has admitted that the move to the community took place quickly before the end of the financial year.

Speaking at the British Medical Association annual conference in Birmingham, the community care committee chairman Dr Alistair Riddell said 19 patients in the psycho-geriatric unit had been moved and 8 had died. Dr Riddell said this was surprisingly high despite the age of the patients involved.

One man was 95 and had been at the hospital for 20 years.

Dr Alex Freeman, a junior doctor at the hospital, said no GP cover had been arranged for the patients on their nursing homes for five weeks.

'The nursing homes had to struggle to look after them. The social workers were told not to get involved. This is a prime example of a trust's business needs coming before needs of patients,' she said.

Sarah Ponsford, spokesman for the commission authority which made the decision to move the patients to nursing homes closer to relatives, said an independent consultant psychiatrist was appointed to investigate the move. It was this authority which arranged for a second opinion when the arguments about moving the patients arose.

In a statement, the commission said: 'The commission acknowledges that moving very elderly and frail people is a risky business.'

Mark Gower, chief executive of Loddon NHS Trust, which runs Park Prewett, said many families had been happy with the move. He said that in the absence of one consultant, a colleague had agreed to the patients leaving the hospital.

However, Dr Pearl Hettiaratchy, the consultant who opposed the move, said yesterday: 'I was on study leave in Canada and did everything possible from there . . .

'You can't go touting around to get a second opinion which says something different. It's a dangerous path to go down.'

At yesterday's conference, doctors described many cases of frail elderly and mentally ill people receiving inappropriate care in the community. They agreed that community care was not working and inadequately funded.

Dr Riddell said they wanted an independent inquiry established to monitor community care arrangements. They had asked the Department in April for guidance on discharge procedures but had received no satisfactory response.

He added: 'We already have a Citizen's Charter - surely, there should be a special charter for the most vulnerable citizens in our society.'

Doctors' performance pay, page 6

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