A lonely death on the 'care' pathway: MPs demand action after another patient is chosen to die without doctors telling familyOlive Goom, 85, was put on the controversial Liverpool Care PathwayNo one was by her side after medics neglected to consult her familyMPs call for urgent review of the system designed to ease suffering
22:00 GMT, 14 October 2012
An elderly woman died alone after doctors failed to tell relatives they were ending her life on the controversial Liverpool Care Pathway.
Olive Goom, 85, passed away with no one by her side after medics neglected to consult with her family about her treatment at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
Last night MPs, including Labour health spokesman Andy Burnham, called for an urgent review into the way the pathway operates.
Olive Groom, aged 81, just before she went into the care home. She died at 85 with no one at her side after doctors put her on the Liverpool Care Pathway
Chris Skidmore, a member of the influential Commons health select committee, said: 'These cases are disturbing, and if families have not been kept informed, that is wrong. It undermines the mutual bonds of trust which are essential in the NHS. We need an investigation into this breakdown of trust.'
As Miss Goom lay dying alone, staff reassured relatives on the phone just hours before her death that there was no urgent need to visit – even though doctors had already removed tubes providing vital food and fluids.
Her family discovered that she had died only when her niece went to visit her and found she was already being prepared for the mortuary. They said last night that they will never be able to stop feeling guilty that no one was there in her final hours.
The Mail has been contacted by several families who claim that relatives were put on the Liverpool Care Pathway – the controversial system designed to ease the suffering of the dying in their final hours – without any consultation.
Some said they found out that their relatives were on the pathway only after they happened to read their medical notes; and by that time it was too late.
The process involves withdrawing life-saving treatment and can involve the heavy sedation of a patient and the removal of tubes providing food and fluid. Thousands of patients every year are placed on the pathway, which was devised in the 1990s as a means of easing pain when it is impossible for a patient to recover and death is imminent.
Concern: Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has called for an urgent review into the way the pathway operates
Medics at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital neglected to consult with Olive Groom's family about her treatment
However, critics say it is increasingly being applied to patients without their families' knowledge and when they still have a chance of recovery.
Miss Goom's niece, Marion Hebbourne, 68, last night told how her aunt was admitted to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London after she broke her humerus bone in a residential care home in February last year. Mrs Hebbourne made the 70-mile round-trip to visit from her home near High Wycombe on several occasions during Miss Goom's stay in hospital.
But she had no idea that her aunt, who never married and had worked as a seamstress, was about to die on the pathway and had in fact been trying to find her a place in a nursing home closer to where she lived.
Mrs Hebbourne said: 'My aunt was not well and she had a water infection, but I would not say she was close to death. We were preparing for her being released from hospital. On the Thursday I visited her and her speech was laboured but she recognised me and did not seem near death.
'I wanted to spend the last hours and days of her life with her. They could have told me that I needed to come down and see her.'
Miss Goom's niece
'I told the staff that I was going to a wedding the next day but told them to contact me if there was any deterioration and that I'd take calls on my mobile.
'On the Saturday I rang and asked how she was and asked if I should come in, but they told me that there were no worries. On the Sunday, I picked up my cousin and we arrived at the hospital at 12.15pm, which was a bit before visiting hours started at 1pm, but we went up to the ward to ask if we could see her.
'When we got there, the nurse said, “haven't you got our phone call We phoned you about 11.15am” and we were asked to go into the relatives' room.
'She then told us, “unfortunately your aunt has passed away”. When I said surely I should have been called, the nurse said, “you knew that she was on the Liverpool Care Pathway”. I knew absolutely nothing, they had never mentioned it.'
Mrs Hebbourne added: 'I wanted to spend the last hours and days of her life with her. They could have told me that I needed to come down and see her.
'If they had talked it over with me we may have thought it was the best thing, but we were never told. I now have to live with the guilt that nobody from her family was there for her.'
Last night the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital admitted that doctors had put Miss Goom on the pathway without telling Mrs Hebbourne and apologised. A spokesman said: 'We have implemented a number of recommendations to improve care for patients in the last days of life. Instead of a single tick-box for staff to confirm that relatives have been involved in discussions about end-of-life care, staff now have to specify what was discussed, when and with whom.'
Mr Skidmore said he would write to the Health Secretary today to demand an investigation into the pathway, to 'restore faith' in it.
Mr Burnham added: 'I have looked carefully at the Liverpool Care Pathway and I support it. It is absolutely essential that it is properly communicated and understood by the family, and done in complete partnership with them.
'I would call for a review to ensure that that happens in every instance.'