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Staff 'played God' with DNR notice

NHS staff "played God" by putting an unrequested do not resuscitate notice on a great-grandfather who died in hospital, a widow has told an inquest.

Former metal polisher and gardener Michael Richardson, 66, of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, died at James Paget University Hospital (JPH) in Gorleston on October 27 2013.

He had been ill for several years with a lung condition which caused his breathing to stop but had been given more than a year to live.

After his death, his widow Janet, 66, accused medics of playing God with his life after discovering that a do not resuscitate (DNR) notice had been placed on him. N o consent was given by the family or by Mr Richardson.

Giving evidence at an inquest in Norwich, Mrs Richardson said her husband tried to discharge himself the day before his death over concern about the levels of oxygen he was being given.

"He said, ' I can't breathe, t ake me home - I can't stand it any more. They're trying to kill me'," she added.

"I said, 'I love you', and then he said he loved me too. That was the last time I saw him alive.

"I wish I'd bundled him up and taken him home because at least if he was going to die, he was going to die with some dignity."

The inquest heard the family, who had recently moved to Norfolk from Deal, Kent, learned of the DNR notice when they returned to the hospital to pick up Mr Richardson's death certificate four days after he died.

Asked by assistant coroner David Osborne if she had given consent for this, Mrs Richardson said: "No, nothing at all."

She added: "I visited the hospital twice a day. There would have been loads of opportunities for staff to talk to me.

"If he had been asked about the DNR notice, he would have said no, I know that.

"He used to say, 'some life is better than no life, you're a long time dead'.

"He was well aware he would die at some point, just not that quickly."

Islington-born Mr Richardson, who had seven children, 15 grandchildren and a great-grandson, was diagnosed with the lung -scarring condition pulmonary fibrosis in 2008 and received oxygen therapy at home.

On October 24 2013, his condition deteriorated and his family called an ambulance which took him to the hospital.

Mrs Richardson said he had been moved between various wards and when she visited him he "seemed worse than when he went in".

Although his medical notes correctly identified pulmonary fibrosis as his main condition, he was initially treated for emphysema, Mrs Richardson said.

When she pointed this out, doctors increased his oxygen levels.

She described how her husband had been left to lie on soiled sheets and was not being regularly washed.

Nurse Louise Curtis described how staff had initially rushed to resuscitate Mr Richardson after an emergency alarm was activated.

But as they tried to save his life, a colleague checked his notes and pointed out the DNR notice so they stopped these efforts.

She added that staffing levels that day had been "unusually low" with herself and two agency nurses responsible for 27 patients. Normally the ward would have been staffed by four or five nurses.

Dr Mohammed Arshad, who examined Mr Richardson the day before his death, said the patient had a chest infection on top of the existing lung condition.

He said t hat the prognosis had been "very bad" but could not recall if he had told Mrs Richardson this. At the time of this examination, he had not been aware of the DNR.

The coroner asked if resuscitation had been deemed clinically inappropriate or if the decision to end the life-saving attempt was simply because of the DNR, he added: "It was inappropriate because of the DNR."

Nine months after Mr Richardson's death, the Court of Appeal ruled that doctors must involve patients in life-or-death resuscitation decisions unless doing so would actively harm them.

Considering the case of Janet Tracey, 62, who died at Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital in 2011 after an order was placed on her notes without proper consultation, Lord Dyson ruled that there should be a "presumption in favour of patient involvement" in such cases unless there were genuinely "convincing reasons" not to do so.

The inquest will continue tomorrow.

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