A payout of £45,000 has been awarded to the family of an 81-year-old woman who was given life-prolonging treatment against her will for 22 months.
The George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton is said to have ‘misplaced’ a living will in which Mrs Brenda Grant stated that if she were no longer of sound or mind, or had suffered from a number of ailments, she should not have treatment to prolong her life. The document also asserted that she should not be given food, but treated with pain relief, even though this might shorten her life.
Doctors are legally bound to follow the wishes set out in a living will - also known as an advance decision. However, the George Eliot hospital, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, misplaced the document and Mrs Grant was artificially fed for 22 months. The advance directive was later located in a pile of medical notes and the Trust has issued an apology.
After suffering a stroke in October 2012 Mrs Grant was left incapacitated and unable to swallow. After three months at the Trust, she was fitted with a stomach peg, enabling her to be fed directly, and discharged into a nursing home. She later died on 4 August 2014.
Natalie Koussa, director of partnerships & services at Compassion in Dying, said: “This tragic case highlights how much there is still to be done to ensure that someone’s wishes for care and treatment are respected. Our thoughts go out to Mrs Grant’s family, who have seen their loved one endure treatment against her wishes for almost two years.
“Mrs Grant clearly felt strongly about not having her life prolonged in a condition that she deemed unacceptable and had rightly decided to record these wishes in a living will, also known as an advance decision. Failings by those responsible for Ms Grant’s care meant that her wishes were ignored, causing her to receive life-prolonging treatment against her wishes.
“This case should serve as a wake-up call for NHS trusts and other health and social care providers that there is an urgent need to improve record keeping for advance decisions, ensure joined-up working amongst staff and communicate with the family of patients in their care. We welcome the George Eliot Hospital Trust’s decision to begin recording the existence of an advance decision on the front page of a patient’s notes, but more must be done. There are systemic changes that must happen if we are to achieve truly person-centred care, such as the development of record sharing systems accessible to multidisciplinary teams in a range of healthcare settings which highlight patients’ wishes and preferences, including the existence of a legally binding advance decision.
“There are also things that individuals can do, such as notifying friends and family members of your advance decision and the contents of it. You can also make a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare, in which you can nominate someone you trust to make care and treatment decision on your behalf should you become incapacitated in future. We encourage anyone who has strong feelings about their future care and treatment to plan ahead and record your wishes.”