Sons slam Harrogate hospital for elderly mother's 'traumatic and distressing' death

Irene Simister. Picture: David Simister
Irene Simister. Picture: David Simister

The sons of an 83-year-old cancer patient have called for an urgent review into the care of terminally ill patients at Harrogate District Hospital, following the “traumatic and distressing” death of their mother.

Despite protests from the nursing team who had cared for Irene Simister for almost a month, staff at the hospital moved Mrs Simister twice, less than an hour before her death on Friday October 14.

Just a few days earlier, and with the agreement of the hospital’s palliative care team, her sons had decided not to move their elderly mother to a local hospice because of the “turmoil and discomfort” it would cause her.

But less than 30 minutes before she died, the hospital’s Bed Manager gave an instruction that Mrs Simister had to be moved from the single-bed side room where she had been for weeks, in order to accommodate a newly arrived patient.

Mrs Simister's family said that staff claimed the decision was monetary driven, as the hospital may have been financially penalised if a bed had not been found for the woman who had an infection.

Mrs Simister, who had lived in Harrogate for more than 50 years, was first wheeled into a six-bed ward while nursing staff rushed to clean another side room, where she died a few minutes later.

Her son David Simister is a North Yorkshire County Councillor who sits on the authority’s scrutiny of health committee which is currently looking into end of life care within the county.

He said: “The decision to move our mother was incomprehensible and inhumane.

“Our mother was not days or hours from death, she was just minutes. The nursing staff who had looked after her with such care, devotion and tenderness, protested, but were overruled.

“This was not end of life care as we expected it. It was end of life cruelty for our mother and her family and friends who had gathered around her bed to say their goodbyes.

“Within minutes of being wheeled from her room into a main ward it was clear her life was very near its end.

“Whilst two nurses came to her aid, others frantically cleaned the other room, where, less than a minute after being moved, she passed away.”

During the move of his mother to the general ward, a picture Mr Simister had placed on the table over her bed, of his mum and dad on their wedding day, was knocked over.

She didn't see it as she died, as he had intended, nor the cards that had been sent to her and placed next to her bed.

After their mother had died, Mr Simister said he and his brother, Andrew, waited for over an hour to speak to the administrator who made the "appalling decision" - but after numerous unanswered calls to her from the ward staff, they gave up and left.

He said: “I was eventually telephoned at home by the on-call manager, who proffered her apologies for what I can only describe as a shocking error of judgement.

“It had already been agreed during the week that it was not in my mother’s best interests to move her as she was comfortable and calm in the room."

Mr Simister has contacted Councillor Jim Clark, Chair of NYCC's Scrutiny of Health Committee and plans to approach the Care Quality Commission to review all aspects of end of life care in its next inspection of the hospital.

He said: “We are now calling for an urgent review into end of life at care at Harrogate District Hospital, as we do not want anyone else to suffer a similar trauma.

“The review of end-of-life care must focus on ensuring these decisions are made by doctors and nurses, who specialise in palliative care. Administrators should have no role to play in this.

“Our mother was deprived of the basic human right to die with dignity - cared for, supported, and in control.

“The sad fact is that the circumstances in which she was forced to spend her final moments of life could - and should - have been avoided.

“Her move also caused an unnecessary and unwelcome distress to other patients on the general ward who had to witness it.”

Mrs Simister's family are due to meet with the chief executive, Dr Ros Tolcher, and medical director, Dr David Scullion, tomorrow.

Mr Simister and his brother said they will be seeking a clear reassurance that the decision and its timing was not connected to reduced weekend staffing numbers, and the need to drive down bed occupancy across the hospital.

They also are seeking reassurances that the decision had nothing to do with nurses' claims that it was triggered by a "fine" that the hospital may have faced if a bed was not found for newly-arrived patient.

Dr Tolcher, Chief Executive at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust said: “I would like to extend my sincere condolences to Irene Simister’s family. I am very sorry that she was moved at such a late stage.

"I have already spoken to her family and we will be examining all of the circumstances of this very regrettable situation in order to prevent similar distress for other patients and families in the future.

"I apologise sincerely to those affected by this situation and would like to reassure people that we will continue to do everything possible to provide care which is compassionate and dignified, particularly for people at the end of their lives.

"I must emphasise that the decision to move Mrs Simister was taken by clinical staff and not by administrators as suggested by some reports. Financial matters played no part in the decision making in what was a very difficult set of circumstances."