By Jared Yee
Editor’s note. This first appeared at http://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/10146 and is reprinted with permission.
A 22-year-old who died from dehydration while in hospital needed a drink of water so badly that he called the police from his bed for help, an inquest has been told. According to Kane Gorny’s mother Rita Cronin, police were turned away by doctors when they arrived at St George’s Hospital, Tooting. She revealed at an inquest that she had received a distressed phone call from her son the day after an operation, in which he said he had called the police because he needed a drink so badly. The inquest heard Ms Cronin went immediately to the hospital, where her son was yelling at staff and showing uncharacteristic abusiveness.
Some doctors and medical staff disregarded the concerns she expressed about his strange behaviour. One doctor asked if he was “always like this” and another asked if he was “coming off booze”. Kane, a keen athlete until he suffered a brain tumour the previous year, was undergoing a routine hip replacement after life-saving steroids he had been given had weakened his bones.
Medical staff failed to give him the hormone medication he needed to regulate fluid levels in his body, despite many reminders by Kane and his family. He suffered severe dehydration but his requests for a drink of water were refused and he died on May 28 2009. A nurse was said to have directed staff to “bag him up” after he died, in front of his distraught family. The case prompted Serious Untoward Incident investigation at the hospital, and the coroner referred the case to the police.
Gorny’s story is one of many, an Office of National Statistics survey suggests. The survey, commissioned by the Department of Health, found that hospital care was lacking in nearly all areas including privacy, treating patients and family with sensitivity, and providing basic nursing care. Eve Richardson, of the National Council for Palliative Care and Dying Matters Coalition, said: “There is absolutely no excuse for not treating people who are dying with dignity and respect, which is why it is disturbing that hospital staff appear to be failing to do this consistently – with bereaved people reporting just 57 per cent of hospital doctors and 48 per cent of hospital nurses always showed dignity and respect.”