Coroner to decide whether hospital death of 12-year-old girl was caused by neglect


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The Independent Online

A coroner will decide tomorrow whether the death of a girl with a severe learning disability was caused by neglect from nurses and doctors at a Greater Manchester hospital.

Emma Stones, 12, died from septicaemia, or blood poisoning, arising from a bacterial infection 16 hours after being admitted to Thameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in February 2011.

Emma, who had cerebral palsy and a mental age of five, was “ice cold and stiff as a board” in a hospital bed when her parents came to visit the morning after her admission with flu-like symptoms. 

Coroner John Pollard will tomorrow hear from an independent medical expert before deciding whether a catalogue of failures to provide basic medical and nursing care contributed to Emma’s death.

It is the latest in a long-line of high profile deaths of patients with learning disabilities in which the NHS has been accused of providing substandard care to vulnerable people incapable of speaking out.

The charity Mencap has campaigned for hospitals and clinicians to be held accountable following dozens of deaths of people with learning disabilities it says were caused by institutional discrimination in the NHS.

The inquest at Stockport Coroner’s Court has already criticised the lack of urgency, co-ordination and communication between the hospital staff at earlier hearings. The medical expert will explain Emma’s likelihood of survival if the bacterial infection had been diagnosed and treated more quickly.

The hearing has so far heard how a junior doctor did not take a blood test because her senior colleague was too busy to help.

Emma’s blood pressure was never taken and the nurses failed to monitor her overnight. One of the nurses disregarded a pulse rate of 180 as a false reading rather than informing the medical staff.

The only information noted on the handover notes for the night shift was cerebral palsy; there was no care plan. One nurse was suspended for a month and later received a warning at an internal disciplinary hearing before resuming her job.

Emma’s father Michael Stones slammed the hospital’s attitude towards his daughter.

“We keep hearing that she’d have died anyway, and yes she’s had her problems but they did nothing for her, they didn’t give her a chance. She was a handicapped girl who couldn’t speak for herself and we’re supposed to just swallow it... it’s an absolute disgrace," he said.

“They came around after she died and said they had put everything right. Big deal. I lost my 12-year-old daughter. They were so arrogant, they just wanted us to shut up and let it lie.”

He added: “A blind man can see that they collectively neglected by daughter but I don’t know what the coroner will say on Monday. It’s too late for my daughter but I want the hospital shown up, it’s not right what they did.”

Mark Goldring, chief executive at Mencap, said: “The failure to provide basic care to patients like Emma is often underpinned by a view that the lives of people with a learning disability are not worth saving. It is totally unacceptable for health professionals to make a judgement about the quality of someone's life.”

Peter Walsh, from the charity Action against Medical Accidents which has supported the Stones family through the inquest, said the it was yet another “scandalous tragedy” involving another patient unable to speak up from themselves.

The hospital has not responded to the Independent’s attempts to seek a response.  A spokesman for the hospital is reported to have said “While it would not be appropriate for the hospital to comment on the details until the Coroner has reached his verdict, we would wish to express our deepest sympathies to the family at this very difficult time”.