Martin Ryan, age 43, suffered a stroke which left him ostensibly unable to swallow. So he was in the hospital. Where he was starved to death "by accident" over a period of 26 days. According to the article, the doctors thought he was being fed through an NG tube, but he was never even given an NG tube, and by the time they found out he was starving to death, he was "too weak" for the insertion of a PEG tube. He died "in agony" five days after they found out what was going on.
This case is being highlighted as one of horrific neglect. It is at least that.
But does a whiff of fishy smell come to your nose at those references to his death's being a result of "miscommunication" and to its being "too late" to save him (five days before he actually died)?
Let's take the points one at a time. Suppose that the article is accurate when it reports that he never had an NG tube. Then what in the world can it mean to say that the doctors thought he was being fed by one? In my admittedly limited experience, when an NG tube has been dropped, it's left in place. If the doctors were even looking at him, they could see he did not have an NG tube. It's not like the nurses would be feeding him with it and taking it out every time in between.
But things get stranger the more we think about them. What did the nurses think? Since they obviously were not feeding him, why weren't they? Nobody is going to tell me that the doctors thought the nurses were feeding him and the nurses thought the doctors were feeding him. That's not a doctor's job. It seems plausible to me that the nurses thought he was supposed to be left to dehydrate to death since he could not eat naturally. Otherwise, why wasn't he fed? And dehydrating stroke patients to death is hardly unheard-of, in the U.S. or in the UK.
Now what about this business of his being "too weak" for a PEG tube insertion? It's my impression that doctors are very, very quick to say that it's "dangerous" to have the exceedingly minor surgery for PEG tube insertion. I suppose in this case they told his relatives that he might die of the anesthetic. But it took him five more days to die. Could he not have been rehydrated with an IV? And after that fitted with an NG tube after all? Why did he have to "die in agony" even after the "mistake" was discovered?
This whole thing smells to high heaven. The hospital's excuses, lame though they are, sound to me like an attempt to excuse something worse than a mistake. Perhaps the doctors did not especially intend Martin Ryan to be starved to death, but they obviously didn't make the smallest attempt to find out if he was being fed and apparently (if the story is correct) ignored the blatant evidence of the fact that he had no NG tube. In other words, they turned a blind eye. The nurses pretty obviously deliberately didn't feed him. We are talking about a period of 26 days. Even if we allow the nurses to be thought of as mindless automata who had to starve a patient to death if that was the doctor's will, they couldn't even have asked, sometime in 26 days? "Oh, excuse me doctor, but did you intend Mr. Ryan to starve and dehydrate to death, or did you want us to get an NG tube on him?" And when the "mistake" was discovered, it's pretty clear that the hospital made very little effort to rectify its error and save him.
This case points to a deeper and darker problem in the NHS than miscommunication and inefficiency.