Page last updated at 17:46 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 18:46 UK

Hospital 'starved' elderly mother

Kathleen Westwood with her mother Ellen
Kathleen Westwood said she fought hard against the hospital decision

A woman has claimed an NHS hospital "starved" her elderly mother rather than continue her care.

Ellen Westwood, 88, was in Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital for two months being treated for dementia and C.difficile, which she had previously contracted.

Her daughter Kathleen Westwood said the hospital decided in February it was in her "best interests" to halt fluids and nutrition - a move the family opposed.

The trust said it followed national guidelines on elderly care.

An investigation is under way.

Kathleen Westwood said her mother contracted C.difficile in September after having a shoulder operation at Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, which said there was no clinical indication she caught the infection there.

Ms Westwood, from Edgbaston, said the infection led to her mother's cheeks, face and throat being infected.

"She couldn't swallow so she became in a state of malnutrition... she was quite poorly because she had no protein in her system," she said.

'Living will'

Ms Westwood said she and her father were called into a room at Selly Oak Hospital on 8 February and told doctors had decided to withdraw all fluids, food and hydration.

They said they had begun giving Mrs Westwood morphine "because she is dying".

She said: "Because of this capacity ruling, if you deem somebody to have lost capacity, then the doctors can act in the best interests.

"Well in their view the best interests was for my mother to die - and clearly by Monday she would have been dead.

"We said we don't want this to happen and they said 'it's happening, sorry'.

"I had to fight very, very hard to get it stopped."

'Can recover'

The hospital agreed to continue treating Mrs Westwood after the family gained a second opinion from another doctor.

Kathleen Westwood urged people to make a living will, so that if they lost capacity the decision whether they lived or died could not be made by "a stranger".

Ms Westwood said she now was looking after her mother who was still bed-bound but was "much, much better".

We have met with the family and are investigating these issues via our normal internal channels
NHS trust spokeswoman

Dr Gillian Craig, a retired expert in elderly care, said: "It is a very important case because it shows how people can be wrongly diagnosed as dying... and can actually recover and go home if correctly treated."

She added that Ellen Westwood was "one of the lucky ones who had a very determined daughter".

The University Hospital Birmingham (UHB) NHS Foundation Trust said it could not respond in detail as this would compromise patient confidentiality.

A spokeswoman said: "Mrs Westwood's relatives have raised a number of concerns.

"We have met with the family and are investigating these issues via our normal internal channels.

"UHB adheres to the national guidelines relating to the care of the elderly and we consider that we provide the best care possible to all our patients."

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