Patient's death raises concern over standards: Deborah Leeds's parents are still waiting for an explanation. Sarah Barclay reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE case of Deborah Leeds, who died at Barnet General on 2 August 1992, highlights fears about standards of care at the Wellhouse Trust hospitals.

In the wake of redundancies prompted by the trust's financial position, one former senior nurse said: 'It meant there were nurses looking after you who were inexperienced. It wasn't their fault, they were put in difficult positions. They were stretched beyond their capabilities.' Staff morale is said to be poor.

Deborah was admitted to Barnet General on 1 August after showing symptoms of myasthenia gravis, a muscle-wasting disorder.

Specialist treatment elsewhere had improved her condition dramatically, and she was sent to Barnet for physiotherapy to regain her muscle strength. To keep the disorder under control, Deborah had to stick to a strict regime of drugs administered four times a day.

But from the time of Deborah's arrival at the hospital, about midday, until her condition began to deteriorate at 6pm, she was not given any drugs, despite constant reminders by her parents.

At 8pm that day, Deborah began having fits. Again, her father, Rob, alerted staff but they told him she was simply having muscular spasms. He reminded them that she had not been given her medication. Mr Leeds said a doctor replied: 'What medication?'

By the time doctors realised that Deborah desperately needed her drugs, the pharmacy at Barnet General had closed for the weekend. While an emergency ambulance was sent to Edgware hospital for the drugs, Deborah began to have serious difficulties with her breathing. Two aspirators brought to her bedside to clear fluid from her lungs broke down. A third worked, but by then, her father believes, 'she had begun the fight for her life'.

When the drugs finally arrived at 10.30pm, she was too weak to swallow and they had to be crushed and given to her. At 3am on 2 August, her exhausted parents went home to sleep. At 6.15am, hospital staff telephoned to tell them Deborah had died.

An inquest in March found that she died from natural causes aggravated by lack of care. Laurence Irvine, then chief executive of the trust, wrote to Mr and Mrs Leeds saying he had ordered a 'thorough review of medical and nursing practices . . . every action possible will be taken to ensure that our failure to treat Deborah in the way that would be expected will not happen again'.

Until this week, when Public Eye asked Martin Havelock, the current chief executive, why the review appeared to have taken so long, the Leeds family had heard nothing. Mr Havelock said the review's findings would be made available to the family within a fortnight.

Deborah's mother, June, said: 'Someone is responsible for my daughter's death, and I'd like to know who.'

(Photograph omitted)