Inquest begins into death of woman with severe learning difficulties who died at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage

The inquest into the death, in February 2014, of a 69 year old woman with schizophrenia and severe learning difficulties, who died after being admitted to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage began today (14 July 2015) at Hatfield Coroners Court.

Eileen Smith had been admitted to hospital from her care home Chambers Grove in mid-February 2014 after suffering bouts of vomiting.

She was transferred by ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth ll hospital with her niece Lesley Dean, before being transferred on to the Lister Hospital later that day.

Eileen was admitted to hospital with her ‘purple folder’ a health passport issued to people with a learning disability to provide essential information to health professionals to adapt their care to the person’s needs.

She only had basic communication skills which meant she could not always communicate effectively with staff.

The Coroner’s Court will hear that Eileen’s condition deteriorated whilst in the hospital and the Coroner will investigate whether this was due to a lack of action by staff at the hospital.

Eileen died on 18th February 2014. A serious case review into Eileen’s death found that it was a ‘case of failure to appropriately escalate a deteriorating patient’.

Allegations of a gross failure in nursing care were also uncovered during the course of the report.

The Trust had argued that Eileen died a natural death and that the Coroner had no jurisdiction to hold an inquest, however, following submissions made on behalf of the family, HMC Edward Thomas said in October 2014 that he had reason to suspect Eileen died an unnatural death and therefore would hold an inquest.

Lesley Dean, Eileen’s niece said: “We just want to find out what happened and whether anything can be learnt and if failures are found to have contributed to my Auntie’s death, then measures are put in place to ensure that these never happen again.”

Merry Varney from law firm Leigh Day who is representing Mrs Dean, said:

“Although the Trust’s own investigation has confirmed some failings, we welcome this Inquest into Eileen’s death and the opportunity for the family to be involved in the investigation into the circumstances of her death. Patients with disabilities like Eileen are particularly vulnerable and it is vital that any failings in her care are identified so lessons can be learnt and the risk of future deaths minimised.”