Terminally-ill woman 'denied refreshment'

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DOCTORS denied a nauseous, terminally-ill cancer patient refreshment from an intravenous drip, her family claimed yesterday. They said that this was despite her 'gross dehydration and disorientation'.

Yetta Cohen, 72, was close to death on 29 June, according to staff in the private patients' unit of Wythenshawe hospital, south Manchester.

She was unable to swallow fluids or solids. Her family asked Brian Hancock, consultant surgeon, to give Mrs Cohen the comfort of intravenous fluid nutrition.

Mr Hancock refused. The following day, the family transferred Mrs Cohen to the Bupa hospital at Whalley Range, Manchester. She received fluids intravenously, and yesterday was well enough to return home after 16 days' treatment.

'She is alert, comfortable, and able now to take solids and fluids,' Sidney Cohen, her son, said. Mr Hancock and the Wythenshawe hospital refused to comment on Mrs Cohen's case, the latest in a national spate of complaints about standards of care of cancer patients in private units.

'We want to know if Mr Hancock was following a hospital policy,' Mr Cohen said. 'My mother was within 48 hours of death.

'We are not seeking compensation, but there does seem to be a case for action.'

Mrs Cohen, of Hale, Greater Manchester, was discharged from Wythenshawe in mid-June after surgery to remove a tumour. Her family doctor said she should be readmitted for further care on 27 June.

'We met Mr Hancock on the evening of 29 June in the presence of the Jewish hospital chaplain,' Mr Cohen said. 'By then, my mother couldn't tolerate solids or fluids orally. They said nothing else could be done for her, but we couldn't understand why she couldn't be given fluid and some nutrition through a drip.

'Mr Hancock reluctantly agreed. He told us he'd never been asked to do such a thing in 18 years' practice. He said they just didn't do it - there was no reason.'

The following morning, Mr Cohen claimed, the decision was reversed by Mr Hancock, who said the anaesthetist would not connect a drip.

'They said they had some sort of consent from my mother. But she was grossly dehydrated and disorientated by that time.'

Ann Alexander, an expert in medical negligence law consulted by the Cohen family, said Mrs Cohen's condition may have made her incapable of 'an informed decision about her treatment'.