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NHS Trust admits failures following death of vulnerable patient

Settlement for family for lack of care for vulnerable 44 year old woman in Burton Hospital

Posted on 31 March 2017

An NHS Trust has apologised and agreed a settlement with the family of a 44-year-old woman who died whilst at the Queen’s Hospital in Burton-on-Trent on 11 August 2013 following a catalogue of failings in her care which left her malnourished and resulted in a police investigation.

Sophie Emerson was admitted to the Queen’s Hospital on 19 July 2013 following a period of ill health and died there 24 days later 11 August 2013. She was a vulnerable adult who had a learning disability and suffered from epilepsy. At the time of her death she was detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Merry Varney, a Partner in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day, acted for Sophie’s sisters, Michelle and Rachel, in a claim against the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for the poor care the alleged Sophie had received.

The circumstances of Sophie’s death have been the subject of a police investigation, an inquest, a safeguarding review and an internal investigation within the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust who were responsible for Sophie’s care.

All investigations found significant failings in the care that she received and that the Trust had allowed Sophie to become so malnourished that this contributed to a deterioration in her health and ultimately her death.

Reports found that the Trust failed to consider Sophie’s substantial weight loss on admission and implement a plan to prevent further weight loss; ignoring her nutritional needs and failing over 3 weeks to ensure Sophie received adequate nutrition and hydration.

The failings also identified an unreasonable delay in inserting a PEG feeding system to feed Sophie. Failings also included inaccurate record keeping including recording that Sophie was eating and drinking when she was not and a lack of proper awareness by staff on how to treat a patient with a learning disability.

In response to a letter before action sent by Leigh Day to Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust last year, the Trust admitted ‘that there were failings in the management of her nutritional intake and that this failing contributed to the deterioration in [Sophie’s] health and her unfortunate death.’

Merry Varney, Partner in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day commented: “This was a very sad case involving multiple failures by an NHS Trust in their care of a vulnerable adult. Sophie was wholly reliant on those treating her and they let her and her family down badly.

“For over ten years now concerns have repeatedly been raised about the lower standard of care provided to patients with a learning disability and this must end.

“Although no amount of money can compensate my clients for the loss of their sister, the admission and apology by the Trust is welcomed, and I hope that the changes made will ensure no other family suffers in a similar way.”

Michelle, Sophie’s sister commented: “Our sister Sophie died in awful circumstances which was awful for us to keep going over, but we had such good support from the police and Merry Varney, which we shall be forever grateful for and would like to think that this never happens again.”