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“To me it felt like she was put on to death row and left to die in a side room” - husband’s anger at Norfolk hospital’s treatment of his wife

PUBLISHED: 10:08 16 October 2012

Roy Cooper is unhappy that his wife Mary was put on the Liverpool Care Pathway at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn and 'left to die'. Here Mr Cooper is pictured with his daughter Maxine Richardson. Picture: Ian Burt

Roy Cooper is unhappy that his wife Mary was put on the Liverpool Care Pathway at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn and 'left to die'. Here Mr Cooper is pictured with his daughter Maxine Richardson. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2012

A widower last night hit out after claiming his dying wife was put on a care plan for the terminally-ill without his family’s agreement.

What is the Liverpool Care Pathway?

The Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) was first developed at a hospice in the Merseyside city and since the late 1990s, it has been helping to spread elements of the hospice model of care into other healthcare settings, such as hospitals, care homes and people’s own homes.

It is widely used in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, both in hospitals and in the community.

However, concerns have been aired that the pathway is being used inappropriately and is leading to what some people believe is large-scale euthanasia by stealth.

In June, Professor Patrick Pullicino, a senior consultant at East Kent Hospitals, told the Royal Society of Medicine the LCP was being used as an “assisted death pathway” with patients placed on the LCP without clear evidence.

Mary Cooper, 79, from Clenchwarton, died on August 13 after spending eight weeks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in nearby King’s Lynn.

It came as MPs, including Labour health spokesman Andy Burnham, called for an urgent review into the way the plan, known as the Liverpool Care Pathway, operates.

Her husband Roy Cooper, 79, said last night: “They never told me about the plan and no-one explained it to me. To me it felt like she was put on to death row and left to die in a side room.

“I would never have let her go to hospital if I knew what I do now.

“After finding out she was on the pathway, we offered to take her home to die but was told we couldn’t.”

A letter responding to the complaint was sent by the hospital to the family last month and a Queen Elizabeth Hospital said they intended to make further contact to discuss the matter further.

Tens of thousands of people are placed every year on the pathway, which aims to ensure that the “right type of care is available for people in the last days or hours of life when all of the possible reversible causes for their condition have been considered”.

But retired train driver Mr Cooper continued: “I got the feeling the quicker she went the better because it would stop them looking after her for another week.

“I really don’t think it is right for doctors to play God and put people on this plan.”

Diabetic Mrs Cooper was taken to the Lynn-based hospital on June 19 after collapsing with low blood sugar levels.

The 79-year-old had been taking antibiotics for a foot infection which had put her off food and led to her collapse.

She was moved into different wards around the hospital and at one stage sons Robert, Gary and daughters Glenda Woods and Maxine Richardson were told she might return home soon.

After five weeks at the hospital and with her condition deteriorating, the pathway was mentioned to Mrs Richardson by doctors as one of several options left available but the family say they were not told when she was actually placed on system.

Mrs Richardson, of Hunstanton, said: “When we were told she was on the pathway plan, they said there was nothing more they could do for her.

“They said they would make her as comfortable as possible and free from pain, but they really didn’t explain what was actually going to happen.”

Mrs Richardson stayed by her mother’s bedside for the last two weeks of her life. The cause of Mrs Cooper’s death was put down as a heart attack, pulmonary oedema, diabetes and cerebrovascular disease.

The family later complained to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and received a letter from the hospital trust’s chief executive Patricia Wright last month responding to their complaint. The family are now considering their next option.

A spokesman for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital said: “We are deeply sorry for the family’s loss. We have responded to them and answered the points they have made.

“We will make every effort to contact the family to talk things through with them in more detail.”

Meanwhile, shadow health secretary Mr Burnham said: “I have looked carefully at the Liverpool Care Pathway and I support it.

“It is absolutely essential that it is properly communicated and understood by the family, and done in complete partnership with them. I would call for a review to ensure that that happens in every instance.”

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