Cancer patient dies after 'being denied transfer due to NHS bed shortage'

NHS trust disputes coroner court's judgment and says beds were available

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The Independent Online

A cancer patient died after being denied a transfer because of a bed shortage, a coroner has said.

However, the NHS Trust responsible for the hospital linked to the death has disputed the findings, claiming beds were available, and that a third hospital may have been involved. 

Michael Brennan, 80, needed emergency surgery after doctors at Whittington Hospital, north London, discovered lung cancer during a bronchoscopy.

His doctors requested he be transferred to Westmoreland Street hospital, run by University College London Hospitals NHS Trust (UCLH), to receive specialist care but a bed was not available for Mr Brennan, the inquest heard. 

He died several days later after his condition deteriorated.

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Dr Richard Brittain, assistant coroner for Inner North London, urged UCLH to take action. The UCLH subsequently apologised to Mr Brennan’s family for his death and acknowledged the coroner’s concerns. 

But on Wednesday, the UCLH revised their position. 

"We offer our sincere condolences to Mr Brennan's family and loved ones,” a UCLH spokesperson said. 

"Since responding to the coroner's findings we have investigated this case further. Our investigation has found we did have beds available at the time.

"We believe the comment that there were no beds available refers to another hospital trust which the Whittington contacted, and not UCLH's hospital at Westmoreland Street.

"We will be reporting our findings to the coroner."

According to the coroner's report, Mr Brennan, a smoker who had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, underwent a bronchoscopy to investigate why he had been coughing up blood since early 2016.

Doctors at Whittington Hospital discovered the lung cancer and tried to stem the bleeding from the lesion, but referred him to UCLH amid concerns over his condition.

A clinician at UCLH advised them that, as an interventional bronchoscopy could not be carried out immediately, Mr Brennan should be referred to heart surgeons at Westmoreland Street hospital if his condition deteriorated overnight.

When the team caring for the elderly man contacted the hospital that evening, they were told there were no beds available.

He was eventually admitted to UCLH intensive therapy unit but died a few days later on October 24 last year, Dr Brittain said.

The report, which was sent to UCLH chief executive Marcel Levi, said: "In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken.

"I am concerned that this back-up plan relied on the availability of a bed at a satellite hospital, which was ultimately not available when it was required.

"This raises the concern that the bed status for the Westmoreland Street hospital was not known to the clinicians when this plan was devised.

"It is possible that future deaths could occur in similar circumstances if there is not a system in place to inform clinicians of the current bed status for the trust's multiple sites."

When asked if Whittington Health recognised the UCLH account of events, a spokeswoman for the Whittington Hospital said: "The evidence provided to the coroner from Whittington Health is accurate."

Press Association