The family of a 70-year-old Birmingham lady, who died having suffered two falls while in hospital with pneumonia, has welcomed an inquest verdict which found that ‘neglect’ and ‘gross failures’ on the part of the hospital contributed to her death.

Mrs Margaret McDonnell, a retired dinner lady from Kings Norton, was admitted to Selly Oak Hospital on 1st May 2009, suffering from pneumonia. 

HM Coroner for Birmingham, Mr Aidan Cotter, heard that the family had asked that Margaret be allowed to use a commode rather than struggle to make her way to the bathroom as her illness had made her lethargic and unsteady on her feet. Family members were also concerned that Mrs McDonnell appeared to be confused but medical staff advised them that this was the result of respiratory problems.

No5 barrister, Karl Hirst, a specialist in clinical negligence cases, was instructed by Anthony Collins Solicitors to represent Mrs McDonnell’s family at the inquest. Karl says: “At this stage, the hospital should have assessed the risk of Margaret McDonnell suffering a fall in line with its procedures, but it failed to do so.”

Margaret McDonnell fell on the ward on the 6th and again on the morning of 7th May. She was visited by her daughter, Annette, later on 7th and told her about the falls. That evening a member of the hospital’s nursing staff saw Margaret slip to the floor from her bed; despite this she was not reviewed by a doctor, a falls assessment was still not performed and no Incident Report was filed. 

Annette McDonnell comments: “Later that evening, nursing staff advised me to write a letter for inclusion in Mum’s medical records to make the doctors and nurses aware of our general concerns and, in particular, our worries about the risk of her falling. However, this still did not prompt the hospital staff to conduct a falls assessment.” 

Margaret fell twice on the morning of 8th May, while trying to make her way unaided to the bathroom. The first time, around 11:00, she banged the back of her head which seemed to make her confused and she cut her nose in the second fall, which left her visibly shaken. 

Annette visited her mother at 12:30 and was shocked to find her badly bruised, agitated and unable to speak coherently. She repeatedly asked for a doctor to see Margaret and for her to receive a CT scan. The scan was eventually performed at about 4:30 and revealed that Margaret had suffered a large subdural haematoma or massive bleed and that her condition was inoperable. Sadly, she passed away shortly afterwards, with Annette and other family members at her bedside.

Charlotte Measures of Anthony Collins Solicitors, adds: “The family was concerned that Margaret’s death appeared to have been the result of a lack of basic care by the hospital and, as such, was keen to have legal representation at the inquest, provided by ourselves and Mr Karl Hirst of No5 Chambers.”

Annette McDonnell says: “As a family, we are happy with the outcome of this Inquest, although of course it does not bring my mother back. It is dreadful that a tragedy has to occur before a hospital recognises its failings and acts on them. We can only hope that lessons will be learnt from my mother’s death and that no other family has to endure what we have been through.”

Speaking outside the inquest, Karl Hirst continues: “The family acknowledges Mr Cotter’s findings that Selly Oak Hospital failed Margaret McDonnell on six separate occasions, when they could have reduced the risk of fatal falls very significantly. The Coroner characterised each of these occasions and the failure of a Doctor to review Margaret after she slipped from her bed on the 7th as ‘gross failures, contributing to her death’.” 

“The conclusion reached by Mr Cotter was that ‘Mrs Margaret McDonnell died at Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham following two falls on 8 May 2009. Neglect contributed to her death’. 

“Following Mr Cotter’s inquest verdict, the family intends to pursue a clinical negligence claim.”

Please click here to read the full article as reported by Birmingham Mail.

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