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Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK


Death blamed on NHS staff shortage

It is claimed the hospital was understaffed

A woman bled to death after routine surgery because inexperienced nurses failed to notice she was haemorrhaging, an inquest was told.

No senior nurses were available to offer treatment.

Pauline Freeman, 54, had undergone a hysterectomy at the Eastbourne District and General Hospital to cure a gynaecological problem.

The inquest heard how she suffered from massive internal bleeding when a ligature used to tie a main artery slipped some hours after the operation.

Mrs Freeman, of Little Common, East Sussex, subsequently suffered a heart attack and died in the early hours of March 4 last year, despite a second emergency operation.

Mr Timothy Colthart, an independent expert medical witness called by East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze, told the hearing how the ward Mrs Freeman had been recovering on was under-staffed.

This meant nurses had failed to notice she was haemorrhaging.

Mr Colthart, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician from Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London, said there had only been four staff on the ward coping with 40 patients.

He said: "On the ward there were beds for 20 gynaecological patients and 20 medical patients. By any standards I think that is an extremely large ward."

Only one of the staff was a full-time nurse, the others being an auxiliary and two health care assistants, the hearing was told.

Mr Colthart said that observations should have been carried out on Mrs Freeman every 30 minutes, when her pulse and blood pressure should have been checked.

She was actually checked at longer intervals and during a final observation at 10pm her pulse had not been recorded.

An increased pulse rate could have been a sign that she was bleeding internally, the inquest at Eastbourne was told.

Mr Julian Shardlow, the consultant gynaecologist who carried out the operation, told the hearing that he had been aware there had been concerns expressed at the hospital about staffing levels.

The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death after rejecting submissions from Sally Hatfield, counsel for the Freeman family, that neglect had been a factor in the death.

"You cannot have the benefit of invasive surgery if you are not prepared to accept that there are risks," he said.

In a statement after the day-long hearing, the family of Mrs Freeman said: "The family believe this death was caused by a lack of basic funding. We call upon the Trust and the Secretary of State to act immediately."

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