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Friday, March 26, 1999 Published at 18:11 GMT


Health

GP suspended for starving patient

Dr Ken Taylor will be banned for six months

A doctor who left an elderly patient to starve has been suspended by the General Medical Council.


BBC Health Correspondent James Westhead: A shocking case
Dr Ken Taylor ordered nurses to withhold food supplements from 85-year-old Mary Ormerod in 1995. She died two months later weighing less than four stone.

The GMC ruling means he is banned from practising medicine for six months.

The council's professional conduct committee ruled on Thursday that the evidence against Dr Ken Taylor had been proven.

On Friday it decided this constituted serious professional misconduct and suspended him from the medical register.

Dr Taylor said he was "very disappointed" with the result, but thanked Mrs Ormerod's family for their support.

'The most difficult decision'

In its ruling, the council said: "Any doctor considering whether to continue feeding or treating a patient whose condition is deteriorating and who may be near dying is faced with the one of the most difficult decisions he or she is likely to make."


[ image:  ]
However, while it noted Dr Taylor's "conscientious care of this unfortunate patient and her family", it said he failed to perform an adequate assessment of the patient before withdrawing food.

He also failed to take into consideration the views of others involved in the patient's care, it said.

And he should have been able to recognise the limits of his professional competence and seek second opinions where appropriate.

Noting the "strength of sunbmissions and testimonials" made on his behalf, the council said he would be suspended for six months.

Dr Taylor has 28 days to appeal. If he does not, the suspension will start then.

'Barbaric killing'

But Mike Willis, of the Pro-life Alliance, said whether or not Dr Taylor sought other people's opinions was hardly the most important issue.

He said the public are being "softened up" for a situation where doctors are immune from prosecution for the deaths of their patients.

And it would have been impossible for Dr Taylor and Mrs Ormerod's family to know whether it was right for her to die.

"It's an absolutely horrendous case. I see this as a case of intentional killing in the most barbaric way.

"The best intentions of any human being is to care for someone, and if they are dying, to give them this basic care and nourishment, which is food and water.

"They withdrew those basic human needs from that patient and deliberately starved and dehydrated her to death."

But he praised the actions of nurses at the home - who secretly fed Mrs Omerod contrary to Dr Taylor's orders.

He said: "Nurses very often in these cases do have this sort of intuition and want to nurture life, want to save life."

Evidence

The GMC had been told that Dr Taylor ordered staff at Oxford House Nursing Home in Preston to stop feeding Mrs Ormerod, known throughout the hearings only as Mrs X.

She had suffered a series of strokes, and weighed less than four stone when she died in August 1995.

The only way she could be kept alive was to force feed her through a syringe.

But Dr Taylor told the hearing he took the decision to withdraw the food supplement because feeding the woman was "inhumane" and "stressful" to her family and medical staff.

The patient was bedridden and had been diagnosed with senile dementia and mild Parkinson's disease.

Daughters supported doctors

Dr Taylor, who had denied serious professional misconduct throughout, said he withdrew the food supplement Fresubin to the pensioner after consulting her family.

Mrs Ormerod's four daughters all spoke in support of the GP at the GMC hearing.


James Westhead: "Victim was under four stone at death"
Some of the nurses were so upset by the doctor's order to stop feeding Mrs Ormerod that they continued to secretly give her the food supplement.

The nurse who found Mrs Ormerod's dead body called the police immediately.

She said: "We pulled back the sheet and we were deeply shocked because Mrs Ormerod's dead body was grossly emaciated.

"The thought that came to me immediately was that she looked like somebody from the holocaust."

The police decided not to prosecute Dr Taylor but the GMC decided to investigate after nurses reported the doctor.

Need for clarity

Dr Michael Wilks is chairman of the British Medical Association's Medical Ethics Committee.


[ image: Dr Michael Wilks said the case illustrates the need for clear guidance]
Dr Michael Wilks said the case illustrates the need for clear guidance
He said: "Cases like this one highlight the need for guidance for doctors on the very difficult ethical and clinical decisions they face when treating patients who cannot make their own wishes known."

Existing BMA guidance stresses the need for communication between health care professionals, he said, and the association agrees with the GMC that doctors in such a difficult situation should seek a second opinion.

The association will issue new guidelines on withdrawing nutrition for terminally ill patients later this year.

Dr Wilks added: "We share the view of the House of Lords in the Bland case that artificial nutrition and hydration is medical treatment, and there will be occasions when it is no longer in the patient's best interests to continue it."

But Mr Willis said it was disgraceful that nutrition and hydration should be regarded as "treatment".

"They are not medical treatments, they are basic human needs," he said.



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