Family shock at outcome of care probe

Wigan Infirmary
Wigan Infirmary

An independent probe has concluded that the correct clinical decisions were taken in hospital cases involving controversial end-of-life care pathways for four borough people.

But the relatives of one Wigan Infirmary patient placed on the pathway, Benjamin Bowdler, voiced surprise at the timing of the announcement today, as there are still outstanding police inquiries.

Bosses of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) have previously discussed bringing in external auditors to review four cases involving care pathways - which see the withdrawal of treatment for patients judged beyond help and so hastening their death - once the police investigations had been completed.

Now in a report to the trust’s quality and safety committee, nursing director Pauline Law shared the findings of the review, triggered after concerns were raised in a national newspaper covering the Wigan cases, with fellow senior clinicians.

The committee was told: “The review had been thorough and had found that the trust had acted appropriately in terms of clinical decisions and engagement with relatives.”

The nursing director said the internal review provided “great assurance” that appropriate levels of care and engagement had been provided to affected families.

But Margaret Whalley, sister of Mr Bowdler, who has battled for answers over end-of-life treatment since his death in 2012, expressed reservations about the hospital’s stance.

She told the Wigan Post that while she was aware police investigations had been concluded in three cases, she was aware of at least two other families, including her own, who were still awaiting the outcome of criminal probes.

Mrs Whalley has already been disappointed by the outcome of a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman ruling on Mr Bowdler’s case, which she felt had wrongly exonerated WWL from any responsibility, so had appealed to a health watchdog, Action against Medical Accidents (Avma), to further the case.

She said: “If Wigan Infirmary claims they have carried out a review into the end-of-life cases, then they have certainly not waited until the police have drawn their conclusions in all cases.

Nor does it appear they have kept their promise to Peter Walsh, chief executive of Avma, and to families involved. In my opinion, it smacks of a lack of co-operation and communication with the police and a haste to draw the veil.”

Mrs Whalley has expressed repeated concerns over the care of Mr Bowdler, from Springfield, who was left with traumatic brain injuries after a skiing fall in Switzerland in 2011.

She wants to find out how her brother, said to be “extremely frail”, had survived for 12 days on the Liverpool Care Pathway.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy has also raised the family’s case with the Department of Health.

Greater Manchester Police confirmed last year that two cases had been considered by detectives, and no criminal offence were found to have been committed, and another two cases were still under review. A spokesman for GMP was unavailable last night for an update.

Mrs Law, trust nursing director, has said previously that WWL had responded to concerns raised by family members at the time and was confident that end-of-life care services, rated as “outstanding” recently by the Care Quality Commission, had “significantly improved and have moved on considerably”.

A WWL spokesman said: “The Trust has received the police report into the End of Life care and has reviewed the findings. WWL is satisfied with the content of the report and our enquiries have now concluded.”