Coeliac patient died days after being fed Weetabix at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, inquest hears

Hazel Pearson died on November 30, 2021 at 10.45pm at Wrexham Maelor Hospital. Credit: Media Wales

An 80-year-old woman with coeliac disease died within days of being fed Weetabix in hospital, an inquest has heard.

Hazel Pearson died on November 30, 2021 at at Wrexham Maelor Hospital in north Wales.

The pensioner had been diagnosed with coeliac disease - a condition where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten - around 14 years earlier.

Four days before her death, Mrs Pearson was fed Weetabix - which consists mostly of wheat - for breakfast between the hours of 8am and 9am, an inquest at Ruthin County Hall heard.

By 11.20am that day, Mrs Pearson's condition had worsened with reports from nurses on the ward saying that she had begun to vomit and was heaving for large parts of the day.

Mrs Pearson was in hospital because she had fluid around her lungs and needed treatment. Credit: Media Wales

Mrs Pearson was prescribed anti-emetic medication shortly afterwards to stop the vomiting but she refused to take it because she said it had previously made her ill, a nurse said in a statement.

Joel Abbott, a consultant geriatrician who was involved in Mrs Pearson's care, said that she vomited at around 5pm on November 26 and that her condition deteriorated from then on. Concerns arose that the acid from the vomit would burn her lung if it was aspirated.

Mrs Pearson's condition did not improve and she passed away four days later. A medical cause of death of aspiration pneumonia had been provided at the opening of the inquest on December 13.

Mrs Pearson's son, David, told the inquest he was heavily involved in the care of his mother, along with his son and brother.

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He described his mother as a "very independent" and "loving mother, grandmother and wife" and said that his "heart sank" after hearing from the hospital on November 26 that she had been fed Weetabix for breakfast.

Mr Pearson said he had been making regular calls to the hospital to ensure that her dietary requirements were being met.

He had initially taken his mother to the A&E department at Wrexham Maelor back on August 20 and was told by her over Facetime 11 days later that she had been sick because she had been fed bread that she suspected was not gluten free.

Mrs Pearson was in hospital because she had fluid around her lungs and needed treatment. She also suffered from heart problems and COPD and "wasn't the same" after suffering a fall in 2017, according to her son.

A couple of months after being admitted to Wrexham Maelor, she spent around a month at Deeside Community Hospital where she was ill after being fed sausage and mash with gravy for lunch, which a sister at the hospital eventually told Mr Pearson was not gluten free, the inquest heard.

This meal had caused her to vomit to the extent that she had difficulty swallowing as her throat had become sore, leading to the worsening of her condition and a return to Wrexham Maelor on November 23.

The dietary requirements of patients are supposed to be displayed on a board above the patient's bed. They should also be mentioned in a specific section of the handover.

However, Mrs Pearson's coeliac disease was not mentioned on the board above her bed nor was it mentioned in the section of the handover that it should have been, though it was written in the document's background notes, the inquest heard.

'Amateurish with no strategic direction'

A three-point action plan was drawn up following Mrs Pearson's death designed to ensure that the signage above beds are accurate and that staff are properly briefed on the dietary requirements of patients.

Within Wrexham Maelor, posters have also been put in staff areas and attached to the notes trolley. The actions implemented at Wrexham Maelor will also be shared across the health board.However, Kate Sutherland, assistant coroner for North Wales east and central, said that the plan put forward has an "extremely narrow vision" and described it as "amateurish with no strategic direction" to learning.

The coroner said she was not satisfied with the health board's learnings and adjourned the inquest to give time for the health board to find someone with strategic influence to give evidence at a future hearing.