Hospital slammed over patient death - full story

Basildon Hospital Photo: PA

A hospital under investigation for having higher than expected death rates has been lambasted by the Health Service Ombudsman for "missing any opportunity" to save the life of a disabled patient.

Tina Papalabropoulos, 23, who suffered from learning disabilities, epilepsy, a form of dwarfism and an abnormal curvature of the spine, died at Basildon Hospital in Essex in January 2009.

Four days after developing a cough she was admitted with suspected aspiration pneumonia, which meant food had got into her lungs, but had to wait five days to see the respiratory consultant, her mother Christine said.

The Ombudsman found that when Miss Papalabropoulos arrived at hospital, doctors "did not provide her with the treatment that her condition would have called for."

The trust was criticised for allowing her to eat and drink, failing to immediately administer antibiotics and for not considering moving her to the "high dependency" unit.

"We found that (Tina's) doctors had missed any opportunity there might have been - however small - to save her life by providing earlier and more intensive treatment for her," the Ombudsman report said.

The report also criticised an out-of-hours GP for refusing to visit Miss Papalabropoulos in the run-up to her hospital stay - despite a desperate plea from her mother.

Her mother Mrs Papalabropoulos said that doctors look at people with learning disabilities and see them only as an "existence".

She said that the issue has only come to light since the serious failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust have come into the spotlight adding: "Vulnerable people like my daughter have been suffering this kind of care for decades."

"It seems like all of their skills go out of the window when they get a child with a disability," she said.

"They see it as 'this is not a life, this is just an existence', so they do not use all of their expertise."

"When your child becomes ill and you need professional help from doctors - you and your child are looked at, and you can see their mind working: is there any point in trying to save this child's life?

"Wrong! This child is loved by all the people, family and friends that they come in contact with. This child is a human being. They just happen to be born with a disability.

"There needs to be more severe deterrents against the doctors and the nurses in the hospital."

Mrs Papalabropoulos also called on health officials to launch an inquiry into the number of vulnerable people dying in hospitals.

She said that she would like to see a new system set up so patients or their families can quickly raise concerns so officials can investigate any potential breaches in patient safety as they happen.

"Basildon are so far behind the times," she added.

"They told us to continue giving her drink and we did not know that (by doing that) we were killing out daughter because she was aspirating."

The Ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor said: "The NHS must treat the most vulnerable members of our society better and we will continue to publish cases where the NHS has failed to serve people with learning disabilities so that this issue remains the focus of attention and improvement across health and social care."

Beverley Dawkins, policy manager at learning disability charity Mencap, said: "Tina's death was an avoidable tragedy. Her family and Mencap believe that the failings that led to her losing her life at 23 were because doctors held the view that Tina's life was not worth saving, due to her disability.

"We welcome the Ombudsman's finding that service failure resulted in missed opportunities to save this young woman's life. It is clear that hospital staff and the out of hours GP service missed any opportunity to save a deeply loved and much-missed young woman.

"But, this is yet another shocking example of the indifference and substandard care that people with a learning disability face in the NHS. It has taken her family four long years to get any kind of justice for her death. This must not happen again."

A spokeswoman for the trust which runs the hospital said: "Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust welcomes the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman's review, which relates to a case dating back to 2009.

"Since then the hospital has made significant improvement to the care and treatment we provide our patients with learning disabilities and we continue to listen to our patients, their families and carers to find out what further enhancements can be made."

Latest data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that 239 more patients died "than would have been expected " at the trust between October 2011 to the end of September 2012.

Following the publication of the report into Mid Staffordshire, NHS England medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh launched an investigation into 14 NHS trusts, including Basildon, because of high mortality rates.

The Essex trust is deemed to be a "repeat outlier" on the Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator - which compares the number of patients who died following admission to hospital with the number who would be expected to die.

Health Minister, Dr Dan Poulter said: "It is unacceptable that people with learning disabilities are receiving this type of substandard care.

"We are working with NHS England, the Local Government Association and others to improve services for people with learning disabilities. This includes specific work on preventing early deaths that are due to poor care."