Client represented at coroner’s inquest after mother’s death

27 July 2021

Our coroner and inquest solicitors helped a client through the inquest process after her mother died in a nursing home following suspected negligent care.

Client situation

Ms H’s mother (Ms C) died in June 2020 after receiving alleged negligent treatment and care.

Ms C was 87 years old, suffered from dementia and needed assistance with mobility and eating. She lived in a residential care home and was later transferred to a nursing home.

In the days after she moved to the nursing home, Ms C’s appetite began to diminish, and she was eating and drinking very little. Ms C’s family noticed that she was not alert or engaging during their visits. The family were concerned as she appeared noticeably less responsive. They raised their concerns with the staff on numerous occasions but were reassured that Ms C was fine.

Following a urine test, Ms C was prescribed antibiotics to treat a urine tract infection and anticipatory medication for pain relief. Again, the extent of Ms C’s deterioration was not discussed with the family, despite them telephoning the nursing home daily to enquire about Ms C’s wellbeing.

Ms H visited her mother and noticed her breathing was shallow. She had swollen glands and appeared dehydrated and unwell. Ms H requested for the staff to call a doctor but was advised this would not be possible until after the weekend and she was again reassured that Ms C was fine.

The family requested to see Ms C’s daily food and fluid intake charts but were advised this information was missing and had not been documented for the complete duration of Ms C’s stay. Upon speaking with the management, the family were shocked to learn their mother was in fact on an end of life care pathway. Ms C was a resident at the nursing home for less than two weeks before she sadly passed away.

How we helped

Ms H approached Co-op Legal Services in July 2020 and we carried out an initial assessment of her claim. We then helped Ms H to make a formal complaint to the nursing home, which was submitted in July 2020. The nursing home responded in November 2020.

The nursing home admitted that they did not communicate effectively with the family and that there was a lack of record keeping by staff. They did not accept responsibility for causing Ms C’s death.

Based on the initial assessment of the claim and the response from the nursing home, our solicitors were unable to say that a medical negligence claim would have a reasonable prospect of success. Specifically, it wasn’t possible to say whether Ms C would have survived if the urine infection was managed and treated sooner.

Ms C’s death had been reported to the coroner, who had determined that an inquest needed to be held. We offered to represent the family at the inquest hearing on a fixed fee basis, which Ms H agreed to.

We notified the coroner of this instruction and requested all the relevant documentation ahead of the inquest hearing. This was reviewed thoroughly, and a barrister was instructed to represent the family’s interests. The barrister was instructed to raise specific matters of concern for Ms H during the inquest, and to explore the evidence regarding a medical negligence claim. Ms H was given regular updates throughout.

The outcome

The final inquest took place in April 2021, during which live evidence was heard from witnesses, including Ms C’s doctor, two carers and the manager of the nursing home.

The coroner concluded that Ms C died because of natural causes. The coroner was satisfied with the medical cause of death offered by Ms C’s doctor, but also included old age. The coroner listed the medical cause of death as (1) Urinary Tract Infection and (2) Vascular Dementia.

This was an understandably difficult and emotional time for Ms H and her family. However, she was grateful for the assistance provided by Co-op Legal Services during the coroner and inquest process.

Client testimonial

Ms H said "we would like to thank you for the way you dealt with our case, we felt you were understanding and sympathetic to our need to get answers about our Mum's death. We also felt that Counsel responded to our needs and asked all the questions we felt needed answering."

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