An NHS trust has apologized to a man whose wife died “alone and in pain” after admitting that reduced staffing levels on his wards played a “significant” role in her death.
John Huggins was devastated after being told his wife of 50 years, Jeanine, had passed away overnight without him by her side following a series of mishaps at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) last year. . She was 69 years old.
Ms. Huggins was being successfully treated for stage 2 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but had been suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy for several days, requiring emergency care. At the hospital, she was diagnosed with neutropenic sepsis, a life-threatening whole-body reaction to infection, and acute kidney injury, in which the kidneys suddenly stop working properly. Blood results indicated that Ms. Huggins was stable.
An internal NNUH investigation, seen by Yo, notes that Ms Huggins was last seen at 11pm on the night of her death and was given a National Early Warning (NEWS) Score of 5, a median score that suggests the patient should be seen by a medical specialist with skills in acute illness, including the possibility of referral to the critical care unit at the end of the assessment. However, the score was not escalated to the team of the night and a medical review was not requested, the report states.
Mrs Huggins was not seen again until 2 am when she was “unresponsive”. A referral to the coroner was made due to the “unexpected cause of death unknown.”
Ms Huggins’ care was affected by “staffing shortages” among nurses and other healthcare professionals at the hospital, according to the investigation. Health unions have previously called for legislation to ensure there is a minimum of one registered nurse for every four patients for each NHS department.
Patient care is regularly compromised when there is a ratio of eight or more patients to one nurse; however, on the night of Ms. Huggins’ death, two nurses in her ward were caring for 34 patients.
“The impact of reduced staffing levels was significant in this incident,” the report states. The failure to recognize and escalate a deteriorating patient was the “root cause” of Ms Huggins’ death, she concluded.
Dr. Nimish Shah, a consultant hematologist at NNUH who led the investigation, apologized for the hospital’s failings.
He wrote in a letter to Mr Huggins: “We have acted to ensure that lessons have been learned and recommendations have been made to reduce the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future.”
Mr Huggins, 69, an accountant from Norwich, received a phone call from a doctor at 2:35am on May 10 last year explaining that despite the best efforts of his team for about 30 minutes, they were unsuccessful in their attempt to resuscitate his wife who had just died.
“They explained to me that the cause of death was ‘choking on his own vomit’. With that, I went to tell our son, and since then our lives have completely fallen apart,” Huggins said. Yo.
“I couldn’t even visit my wife’s body the next day or take her belongings home because we were told the circumstances of her death were unclear. Later, a senior consultant called and told us that my wife should not have died, and that her doing so was due to negligence.”
The consultant told Mr. Huggins that his wife had pressed the panic button next to her bed in the side room of the ward where she had been admitted, but no one came for at least three hours. Ms. Huggins removed her medical tubes and climbed onto the side of the bed, the consultant told her husband.
Mr Huggins said: “A curious nurse, not from the night team who should have been looking after her, found her dead on the floor and wondered why an alarm was going off. But Jeanine had been dead for several hours.
An inquest into the death of Ms Huggins was opened in August and adjourned to February 2023.
Mr Huggins said: “Nothing is going to bring Jeanine back. We’re not in this out of revenge or anger because that never works, but what we do want to make sure is that this never happens to anyone again. You shouldn’t die alone and in pain, in the middle of a busy hospital, in its busiest ward.”
To make matters worse, Huggins said the hospital called him several days after his wife’s death to say he had missed an appointment and claimed that when the funeral director contacted the funeral home to pick up her body, the undertaker said there was no record of her. – Apparently her name had been spelled incorrectly.
Huggins said: “My wife was a much-loved former teacher with many friends and we will be attending the inquest to find out exactly how this all happened.”
Professor Erika Denton, NNUH’s Chief Medical Officer, said: “Our deepest sympathies go out to Ms Huggins’ family and we are very sorry that opportunities to worsen her condition were missed on 9 May.
“A full and thorough internal investigation was conducted following his death at NNUH and recommended that further education be carried out on the importance of nursing staff escalating deteriorating patients and NEWS as per Trust policy. Our report has been shared with the family and we are happy to speak further with them if they have additional questions or concerns.”