Urgent inquiry on 'lost' patient's death

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THE DEATH of an elderly woman who was 'lost' by medical staff at a London hospital for four hours will be investigated urgently, health ministers promised yesterday.

Elsie Westron, 89, was left in the casualty department at Greenwich District Hospital without medical attention for more than three hours and died of a heart attack. Two doctors told an inquest on Friday that they had been unable to find her.

Southwark coroner's court heard that Mrs Westron had been admitted by ambulance on 1 September from an old people's home suffering from dehydration. A post-mortem had confirmed that she died of a heart attack. A spokeswoman for the hospital refused to comment yesterday.

Roy Westron, the dead woman's son, told BBC Radio's Today programme that during four hours in the hospital his family spoke to staff about his mother at least three times. One doctor had said she could not treat her because his mother was not her patient.

After three hours she was taken to a ward where Mr Westron was told 'once we get some drips into your mum she will be fine'.

'I went to have a cup of tea with my wife and when we came back we realised she was dead.' It was only then, Mr Westron said, that his mother was examined by a doctor.

Tom Sackville, junior health minister, said last night: 'We must be careful not to prejudge the inquest, but something appears to have gone seriously wrong in this instance. That is why I am asking for an urgent report.'

But Nick Raynsford, Labour MP for Greenwich, said last night that the 'appalling' case was not the first in which delays had occurred in seriously ill patients in the area. 'This tragic case comes on top of a series of crises which raise questions about the management of the NHS in Greenwich.'

Staff shortages and ward closures were endemic and staff morale was at rock bottom because of the threat of closure hanging over Greenwich District Hospital and the neighbouring Brook Hospital, Mr Raynsford added. The hospitals are part of the Greenwich Health Care Trust which took responsibility for them in April.

There is growing concern about the monitoring and assessment of hospitals in the trust system, which lack the accountability of those in health authority control.

The inquest was adjourned until Tuesday so that more witnesses could be called.

(Photograph omitted)