Hospital apologises after feeding tube removed without telling elderly patient’s family

Hospital bosses have apologised after medics removed a feeding tube from a sick elderly woman without telling her relatives or seeking a judge’s approval.

A lawyer representing the London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust, which is based in Harrow, north-west London and runs a number of hospitals, issued an apology at a court hearing after the woman’s son began legal action.

Barrister Eloise Power told a judge overseeing a hearing in the Court of Protection – where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered – that she had been instructed to offer a “sincere apology” to the woman and her family.

A barrister representing the woman’s son told Mrs Justice Arbuthnot that what had happened was “intolerable”.

Katie Gollop QC suggested that if the woman, who is in her late 70s, had died police might have begun a manslaughter investigation.

She said the woman had been “deprived” of nutrition.

Mrs Justice Arbuthnot, who heard that the woman was in a “prolonged disorder of consciousness”, said there was a “real problem”.

The judge heard how the woman’s son and daughter had learned, from hospital staff, that the naso-gastric tube had been removed nearly a month ago.

She said she was “dismayed” by the “poor communication”.

Mrs Justice Arbuthnot oversaw a public, online, hearing late on Thursday after lawyers representing the woman’s son made an application for a urgent hearing.

She said the woman could not be identified in media reports of the case but that the trust could be named.

More court hearings are likely and a judge is expected to make decisions about what moves are in the woman’s best interests.

Mrs Justice Arbuthnot indicated that she would want a report explaining “what on earth has gone wrong”.

Ms Gollop described the circumstances as “unprecedented” and said the trust should pick up her clients’ legal bills.

The woman had given her son and daughter a power of attorney and wanted them to make decisions about “life-sustaining treatment” if she lost the mental capacity to make decisions herself, Ms Gollop said.

Ms Gollop said the woman, who was a Christian, had said she wanted to live and told her son and daughter that they must “fight” for her life,.

She said said if there was any dispute about treatment, trust bosses should have made an application to the Court of Protection and asked a judge to consider the case.

“It was quite wrong for the trust to withdraw or withhold any form of treatment in the context that it did,” she told Mrs Justice Arbuthnot.

“In this country in 2021 a patient has been deprived of nutrition without their nearest and dearest being consulted.”

She said what had been done was “intolerable” and told the judge: “That should never have happened.”

Ms Gollop said if the woman had died there would have been an inquest and a possible manslaughter investigation by police.

She said, in a written case outline, that the woman’s son and daughter did not feel that the had been “consulted”, or “properly involved in the decision-making process”, and added: “They are very concerned that the trust is unilaterally withdrawing and withholding life-sustaining treatment that the trust knows they, as attorneys, wish (their mother) to have.”

Ms Gollop said the woman had given instructions to her children, when giving them a power of attorney, and had written on a form: “I want to live and you must fight to help me to live.”

Ms Power told the judge: “I am instructed to offer a sincere apology on behalf of the trust.”

She apologised to the woman’s children because they had not been kept informed and apologised because an application had not been made to the Court of Protection.

Ms Power said the woman had been given fluids.

She indicated that the trust would carry out a review and would provide information asked for by the judge.

No detail of the woman’s health problems emerged at the hearing.

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