Hospital staff cleared over pensioner's death

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Hospital staff were yesterday cleared of starving a 91-year-old stroke victim who died after medics decided to withhold food and fluids.


Hospital staff were yesterday cleared of starving a 91-year-old stroke victim who died after medics decided to withhold food and fluids.

Olive Nockels suffered a massive stroke in September 2003 and was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, but died just weeks later.

Yesterday an inquest in Norwich ruled that she died of natural causes after considering legal arguments from her daughter Ivy West and grandson Christopher that a medical decision to withdraw fluids for four days meant she had starved to death.

They had claimed the former school matron had asked for a beetroot sandwich, a cup of tea and macaroni cheese in her final days.

Norwich coroner William Armstrong said he found no evidence that staff had failed to follow guidelines on her treatment.

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And he said because of the severity of her stroke, which had left her in a comatose state, he did not accept that Mrs Nockels had been capable of asking for food.

“She didn't die of dehydration, she didn't die of starvation,” he said. “There was no sense that Olive Nockels' death was anything other than natural.”

But there could be a further legal twist after Mr and Mrs West hinted that they would challenge the ruling.

Mr Armstrong said Mrs Nockels “had been managed in a way that was competent, conscientious, caring and compassionate”.

“But Olive Nockels had had a very severe stroke as a result of which death was virtually inevitable. There was nothing in her care and treatment in hospital which had made her death unnatural.”

The inquest had heard how Christopher West had secured a High Court order on October 6 that year to make doctors at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital give Mrs Nockels fluids - after treatment had been stopped because of a build up of excess body fluid.

Her family objected to the fluids decision by consultant Dr David Maisey, which was later backed by his colleague Dr Brian Payne, after a second opinion was sought.

But Mrs Nockels' two other daughters had supported the stance of hospital staff and the issue had sparked a family rift.

Rita Wright told the hearing that she had not been aware of the court application regarding her mother and learned of it while watching television. She said she had wanted her mother to “die with dignity”.

“She lay there,” she said. “I did squeeze her hand but there was no response, she had her eyes closed all the time. I could see she was very ill.”

Recording his verdict, Mr Armstrong added that this “judgment is in no sense an ethical judgment” but based in accordance with “established legal principals… and common sense”.

“A number of other issues have been raised in the course of these proceedings and different views may well exist about how people in Olive Nockels' situation should be cared for and treated during the final phases of their life,” he added. “It is important to state that our system of law is based upon the Judeo-Christian view that all life is sacred.”

He said the high court ruling of October 6 was “unhelpful” adding: “I seriously wonder what information exactly was placed before the court.”

After the hearing, Mr West spoke of his disappointment.

“At the time we were told that she was going to have all her fluids taken away, we weren't given the reasons why and we weren't told she was fluid overloaded or anything like that,” he said. “If they don't believe us, that's up to them. They didn't spend five, six or seven hours at a time with her.”

In a statement Ivy West said: “We are glad that our very real concerns about my mother's treatment have been raised and heard in public. We hope this will give families of stroke victims the confidence to ask for adequate nutrition and hydration for those who have suffered a stroke. We are seeking legal advice about whether the coroner's comments on the GMC guidance were legally correct.”

Dr Iain Brooksby, medical director, at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said: “We have always been very clear that the care our staff provided was of a good standard and was wholly appropriate. It is regrettable that this matter took so long to conclude and that has placed additional stress on caring and experienced clinical staff, who do a good job for their patients in difficult circumstances. It has been a sad case for all concerned and we welcome the verdict.”