Staff treated my wife

By James MortlockA CORONER has ruled doctors did everything they could to save a woman's life, despite claims from her husband that she had been treated like “a neurotic 56-year-old with a headache”.

By James Mortlock

A CORONER has ruled doctors did everything they could to save a woman's life, despite claims from her husband that she had been treated like “a neurotic 56-year-old with a headache”.

However, Greater Suffolk coroner, Dr Peter Dean, urged health bosses at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds to look at communication there to prevent future misunderstandings between staff and patients' families.

His call came following the death of Gwen Kay, who died from a rare brain condition at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge on January 25 last year, days after first being admitted to West Suffolk Hospital with a severe headache.


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During an inquest into her death yesterday, her husband, Colonel Brian Kay, claimed they were treated with “hostility and callousness” by nursing staff at the West Suffolk Hospital.

Col Kay said he was convinced that if doctors at the hospital had taken his wife's complaint more seriously, they may have been able to save her life.

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He added a specialist at Addenbrooke's Hospital had informed him her chances would have been 50-50 if she had been transferred there sooner.

But a series of doctors told the inquest how they had carried out thorough tests on Mrs Kay and she had eventually died of a rare and complicated condition that was difficult to diagnose.

Col Kay first took his wife to West Suffolk Hospital's accident and emergency department on January 19 after she had been suffering with a headache for several days.

She was given tablets and told to report back if the symptoms continued, but the next day she was readmitted into the hospital after visiting her GP, still complaining of a headache.

Dr Del Rio, a duty medical registrar, told the inquest a CT scan and a lumber puncture had been carried out on Mrs Kay, but no abnormalities had been discovered and she was again discharged.

On January 22 she went to see her GP, who was so concerned about Mrs Kay's condition that she was again sent to the hospital.

Dr Malcolm McFarlane told the inquest he had ordered an urgent CT scan after seeing Mrs Kay in the West Suffolk Hospital on January 23.

He explained how the scans showed no evidence of bleeding, but revealed abnormalities to each side of her brain. As a result, he requested an urgent MRI scan at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

Mrs Kay was transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital on the following day after her condition deteriorated, but she died the next day.

At the inquest, Col Kay said: “Most of my contact at the hospital was with the nurses who treated both me and my wife in a hostile and callous manner. Their stonewall attitude was very difficult to cope with.

“A specialist at Addenbrooke's said my wife's chances would have been 50-50 if she was transferred sooner.”

He added: “I think there was a decision made between the medical staff and the nurses that my wife was just a neurotic 56-year-old woman and they didn't take her seriously.

“I was disillusioned the faith we had in the hospital was without foundation, but by then it was too late.”

A pathologist gave the cause of death as a haemorrhage as a result of swelling, caused by bleeding of the brain. He stressed the findings were rare complications of a rare condition.

Recording a verdict of death by natural causes, Dr Dean said: “There is nothing to suggest at any stage that the medical staff involved didn't believe the severity of what Mrs Kay was complaining of.

“There is nothing to suggest neglect played any part in the death itself. An enormous amount of care and energy was put in to try to find the underlying problems.”

Dr Dean recommended the hospital should look at communication between its nursing staff and patients' families to prevent any misunderstandings in the future.

james.mortlock@eadt.co.uk

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