Hospital apologises after death of war hero

The family of a war hero and ex-Western Morning News journalist has accepted an award of damages against a local hospital after the hospital admitted responsibility for his death.

Fred Smith (90) of Plymouthserved in the Royal Artillery during World War Two and rose from the ranks to become a Royal Artillery officer, for which he was decorated after being injured by shrapnel. In June last year he was admitted to Mount Gould hospital Plymouthwith anaemia, for which he was treated.

On 7th August he was due to return home and was taken to his house by a nurse to make arrangements for his imminent discharge. He spent three hours there and afterwards complained of feeling tired.

Mr Smith was sitting on a four-wheel zimmer frame with collapsible wheels being pushed by a nurse into the hospital on his return when the frame hit a stone and collapsed. He was thrown backwards  to the ground and sustained serious head injuries and internal bleeding.

Over the next few days his condition deteriorated, he became confused and remained in considerable pain. He died on 14th August  from what were described in the post mortem report as  'head trauma' and 'bilateral subdural haematomas'.

Mr Smith's family were upset by his treatment, by the hospital's apparent failure to diagnose his injuries and their failure to fully  inform his family during his last week of the extent of his injuries.

For this reason they decided to pursue a legal claim against the hospital, to establish the full facts of the case. Their lawyer, clinical negligence specialist Kevin Finneran of Exeter-based Michelmores explains:

'Mr Smith's medical records during this last period of his life show a number of inconsistencies,' he explains.

'Our investigations have also shown that the nurse involved was reprimanded by her employers  for incorrect use of equipment, since clearly a gentleman of Mr Smith's age and frailty should clearly have been carried in a proper wheelchair. There was a glaring failure of management to implement systems to ensure that Mr Smith was treated properly.

'Most upsetting of all for the family was  having to watch Mr Smith fade away in front of their eyes whilst in considerable pain and distress.  They were powerless to come to his assistance.  It became apparent that they were actually watching him die.

'It is crucially important in circumstances like these that the true facts of the case should be established, so that this avoidable tragedy will not be repeated.  This has been a bitterly distressing experience for Mr Smith's family.'

'This claim  has also produced a formal apology from the primary care trust, which may go some way to helping them overcome their grief.' 'In my practice I have noted a recent  disturbing trend to treat elderly patients with less respect and a lower standard of care than they have the right to expect .'

An inquest is to take place before HM Coroner in Plymouth on 31 July 2007.