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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
What killed my dad?
Thomas Stobbs
Mr Stobbs went to hospital for a routine hip operation
TV producer Angie Mason secretly filmed her dying father in an NHS hospital. During her efforts to find out why he died, she makes a startling discovery about the accuracy of death certificates.

I went to my dad's bed on the ward. There was no sign of him. I panicked. A nurse pointed to a room close to the nursing station. I found him delirious.

"Down, boy!" were his first words. "Fetch the stick!" My brain racing, I realised he thought I was Ogneb, my brother's dog who'd died 25 years ago.

This was the moment when it dawned that he was in free fall after his hip operation two weeks earlier. He should have been in and out in five days, but within a day of his operation his stomach and arms were puffing out like Mr Blobby.

We were at a loss to know what had happened. So it seemed were the staff.

The next day my family started an offensive to get him the best care we thought he deserved. After all, he'd walked into Barnet Hospital for this operation for a new hip which he'd waiting for years for.

Doubts

But we'd been in this situation before. Two years earlier, my mother, Silvana, had been admitted into Barnet for a minor stroke.

It couldn't have been that serious as it took Barnet seven days to do a brain scan which showed up normal. On 2 September, 2002 - two-and-a-half weeks after she was admitted - she died.

Thomas Stobbs and his wife Silvana
Angie Mason also has doubts about her mother's death

Her death certificate contained medical terms such as variceal haemorrhage, hepatitis, sepsis. There were nagging doubts that the doctors had never explained how she had died so suddenly and so unexpectedly.

She went to her grave with question marks hanging over the circumstances of her death.

Here was my father with question marks hanging over his rapid decline. We thought he should be in intensive care, but our request was declined.

I rang his GP, telling him that if he was not taken to intensive care I would physically remove him from the hospital. That afternoon he was taken there, just in the nick of time.

Doctors picked up an internal bleed. He was whisked into the operating theatre and given 15 pints of blood. We were told he had a 10% chance of survival. We were now facing the prospect of my dad dying. All for a hip operation.

Against the odds, he fought his way back. The care he'd received in intensive care was second to none.

Hardly had the life support systems been removed, that we were told he was going to a general ward. On a main ward his bed was farthest from the nurse station.

He had a sign "nil by mouth" by his bedside. Yet there were signs of food which he couldn't swallow. His heart monitor went off and was ignored it until we summonsed help.

Nurses knew nothing about his case history. This seemed like history repeating itself. The next day he was unconscious, barely able to breathe. With help from our MP, he returned to intensive care. This game of yo-yo continued.

Secret footage

I decided to secretly film my father and meetings with doctors. One day we found him in an isolation room. He'd picked up a nasty bug, a nurse told us. I learnt later by looking on the internet that he had C. Diff or Clostridium Difficile, another hospital superbug which particularly hits elderly people.

Accurate statistics could have helped me assess the risk of an 86-year-old having a hip operation.

With infection after infection, my dad's days were numbered. He died in my presence on 18 April 2005.

I got my father's death certificate and couldn't believe my eyes. I was convinced it was the wrong death certificate.

My father's name was there, but no mention of the hip operation or post-operative complications, or infections. It simply said:

I(a) Pneumonia
II Bleeding Duodenal Ulcer.

I registered my father's death, but under protest.

The consultant was initially happy to change it, but to what? It was in everybody's interest to get an independent post-mortem. The pathologist recommended the death certificate be changed to:

1a Bronchiolitis obliterans and organising pneumonia [a rare form of pneumonia]
1b Post-operative complications
1c Hip joint replacement (Jan 2005) for arthritis
2. Ischaemic Heart Disease

An earlier remark by the pathologist intrigued me. He'd said that many death certificates were inaccurate, not just my father's.

A government report into death certification in 2003 showed that only 55% of death certificates are correct. This meant that 45% weren't. So nearly quarter of a million certificates are wrong.

Epidemic proportions

Accurate statistics could have helped me assess the risk of an 86-year-old having a hip operation.

The programme shows that "bronchopneumonia" is a popular choice with doctors.

Meanwhile hospital acquired infections such as MRSA or Clostridium Difficile don't seem to feature. Nor does diabetes which many doctors think is reaching epidemic proportions.

In July last year, I received a letter from the consultant at Barnet refusing to change my father's death certificate.

I have not been the only one to raise these issues. Three major enquires into death certification recommended changes including the Shipman Report.

Why have successive governments been reluctant to bring about changes?

The recent announcement about the coroners' system will not substantially change the position for me and the other bereaved families.

We need to make our voices heard.


Real Story: BBC One, Tuesday, 27 June at 2235 BST.


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