Legal expert blasts nurse who switched off life support ‘by mistake’

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Legal expert blasts nurse who switched off life support ‘by mistake’

26th October 2010

A medico-legal expert was left shocked and stunned by BBC footage which apparently showed a nurse switching off her patient's life support machine - by mistake.

Daniel Lee, head of the Clinical Negligence department at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said the footage shown as part of the BBC's Inside Out programme was 'terrifying, unbelievable and unacceptable.'

"What the nurse does in this footage is amongst the worst nightmares of patients' families," said Daniel, a partner with the firm. "Whenever someone is dependent on a life support machine, there is always the fear that somehow the power will fail or a plug will be inadvertently pulled from the socket. But procedures are in place to ensure that mistakes like this absolutely should not happen."

The footage was released after a tetraplegic man had a secret camera installed at his bedside when he became concerned about the standard of care he was receiving. Just days later the secret camera captured the moment the man's nurse switched off the ventilator, leaving him with permanent damage to his brain.

"We understand an internal investigation is still underway at the agency which supplied the nurse in this case," said Daniel. "However, it has also been reported that a confidential report by social services into the incident alleges that the agency was required to supply a nurse with training in the use of a ventilator, but that they did not have adequate systems in place to check what training their staff had received," he said. "This is simply unacceptable."

The man has been cared for at home on a life-support machine since 2002, after he was left paralysed from the neck down following a road accident. Despite being tetraplegic, he was able to talk, use a wheelchair and operate a computer using voice-activated technology.

"What's even more worrying is that this man's sister has said he had become increasingly concerned about serious errors involving nurses operating his ventilator," said Daniel. "But she said nobody acted on any of the e-mails of concern which he sent to health bosses. There appears to have been little regard given to his concerns which were - in hindsight - well-founded."

The man arranged to have a camera installed in his room to try to uncover and identify any errors in his care, but just days later the ventilator was switched off.

"Although the machine was restarted by paramedics after 21 minutes, he had suffered serious brain damage by then," said Daniel. "According to his sister, his life is completely changed.

"This poor family has been left devastated because of a failure in the system set up to prevent just this type of tragic incident," said Daniel. "What they have been through is terrifying, unbelievable and completely unacceptable."

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to clinical and medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Source - BBC News