Barbara and Peter Nuttall were visiting Barbara's mother in her nursing home, when they were told a medical note had been discovered in her file informing doctors and nurses NOT to resuscitate her if she had a heart attack or stopped breathing. It was the first time the family knew anything about the medical order.
"I was shocked when she showed me the paper. I was just horrified," Mrs Nuttall said. "She could have died."
"The family have got to be informed. If a doctor believes it wouldn't be worth resuscitating, I can accept that. But he fact we've been left out totally is unforgivable."
The order had been made by Weston General hospital when Mrs Mather was a patient there in August.
Guidelines for medical professionals say a doctor can make the decision not to resusciatate a patient, but that every endeavour must be made to discuss this with the patient and, if appropriate, any other relevant people.
There was nobody available to interview from the Weston Area Health NHS Trust, but they did issue a statement saying:
– Weston Area Health NHS Trust
We would like to apologise to Mrs Mather and her family for any distress which may have been caused by their reading of this Do Not Resuscitate form.The form was not filled in correctly or completely last August and falls well below the standard which we would expect to be applied, given the very sensitive nature of this issue.
At Mrs Mather’s last admission, the surgical team caring for her were clear that a DNR order was not appropriate and was not in place.
We are continuing to train all our staff in the correct procedures surrounding DNR orders.
We are very grateful that this issue has been brought to our attention as it emphasises that continuing education of health professionals in this area is vital."
The general issue of these orders remains contentious and the charity Age UK Bristol says it raises questions over the treatment of elderly people in the health system.
Barbara and Peter know difficult dicussions need to be had and tough decisions made. But they say they hope now they can have those discussions, as they deserve, with guidance and support from medical professionals.