Coronavirus: Pensioner backs ‘do not resuscitate’ legal action against Matt Hancock after ‘brutal’ phone call with GP

Lawyers challenging health secretary Matt Hancock amid concerns over systematic violations of human rights

Coronavirus in numbers

An 81-year-old woman was asked to agree to a ‘do not resuscitate’ order being put on her medical records during a “brutal” five minute telephone call with a doctor she didn’t know and had never seen.

Kathleen Robertson, a former legal secretary, has now backed a bid for a judicial review against health secretary Matt Hancock over the government’s refusal to set out clear national rules on ‘do not resuscitate’ and end-of-life decisions despite, lawyers say, examples of “systematic violations” of human rights across the country.

Ms Robertson, who lives independently in sheltered accommodation near Cambridge, contacted The Independent after reading about a bid for a judicial review against the health secretary by Kate Masters, whose mother Janet Tracey died at Addenbrookes Hospital in 2011 after a ‘do not resuscitate’ order was made without her or her family’s knowledge.

Her family later won a landmark judgement at the Court of Appeal, which gave patients a new legal right to be consulted over ‘do not resuscitate’ decisions.

Ms Robertson said he was contacted “out of the blue” by a doctor at Lakeside Health Centre in St Neots at the start of April.

She said: “I had a phone call from a doctor I didn’t know and who I have never seen and who only had my medical records to go on. He asked me about making a decision to put a ‘do not resuscitate’ note on my records. It was completely out of the blue and I wasn’t expecting it.

“There was no real explanation. It was a five-minute conversation and there was nothing kindly about it. When I was approached to discuss this for my husband 10 years ago it was very well done. This wasn’t, it was a brutal conversation.”

After the call, she discussed the issue with her family and contacted the surgery to ask them to take the DNR off her records. The surgery said this could not be done but has since added a new note to say she should be resuscitated. But it has also added a “treatment escalation plan” for which Ms Robertson has had no explanation about what that means for her care.

She added: “My concern is that elderly people are being asked to make such a decision without all the facts being given in a five-minute telephone call. Some will be frightened and agree, others will be muddled and agree, and some will have no idea of what they are agreeing to.

“I fully support Kate Masters’ legal action against the government.”

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak there has been concern about unlawful “blanket” ‘do not resuscitate’ orders being put in place on care home residents and other vulnerable patients.

Under the law, while a decision to resuscitate a patient is a medical one and not an issue for consent, doctors must consult the patient or their family and make a decision on the individual.

The care regulator the Care Quality Commission and NHS England’s chief nurse have both issued warnings in recent weeks after reports of inappropriate ‘do not resuscitate’ orders being made.

Kate Masters told The Independent Ms Robertson’s experience was “exactly what I was worried about”.

She added: “The thing that concerns me is that this is the third or fourth example I’ve seen of GPs calling people like this. I don’t know where this has come from. But it’s wrong and I feel sorry for people receiving these calls. I want to know what the criteria is, my fear is it’s based on age.”

She said a national policy and guidance from government would mean people like Ms Robertson would be aware of the issues and be able to access information and help.

“People faced with DNAR conversations don’t have access to that knowledge and have to turn to social media, journalists and lawyers. That can’t be right,” she said.

In her mother’s case, the Court of Appeal judges warned that if there were systemic violations of patients’ rights because the policy had been delegated to local organisations then the decision to delegate itself could be considered a breach of human rights.

In a letter to the health secretary, Ms Masters’ lawyers from Leigh Day said: “We say that the extreme circumstances of the Covid-19 crisis has brought such a situation to hand. Our case is that the systematic violations set out in our evidence are a necessary consequence of the secretary of state’s continuing delegation of policy to a local level, and his failure to centralise, clarify and enforce the minimum standards of protection during this crisis through a direction with force of law is unlawful.

“With this power, the secretary of state is able to prevent continuing breaches in a way that local healthcare bodies are no longer in a position to do.”

Lakeside Healthcare was approached for comment.

The Department of Health and Social care said it would not comment due to the ongoing legal process.

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