Lister Hospital confirms pilot scheme for electronic records after criticism by coroner following disabled woman’s death

Eileen Smith died at Lister Hospital on February 18 last year.

Eileen Smith died at Lister Hospital on February 18 last year. - Credit: Archant

The family of a disabled woman who died while under the care of hospital staff want procedures changed to stop a similar tragedy happening again.

Lesley and Keith Dean were devastated by Eileen's death.

Lesley and Keith Dean were devastated by Eileen's death. - Credit: Archant

And Stevenage’s Lister Hospital, where the woman died, says it is already working on a new electronic observation system which will cut out paper charts and raise the alarm if a patient’s condition deteriorates.

A coroner ruled on Friday that staff failed to properly care for 69-year-old Eileen Smith, whose vital signs skyrocketed during her 12-hour stay at the Coreys Mill Lane hospital.

But doctors working at the time were not told until it was too late, and she died at about 5.45am the following morning.

Her niece Lesley Dean said: “When she went into Lister she was well looked after and cared for.

Lister Hospital is piloting a new scheme after Miss Smith's death.

Lister Hospital is piloting a new scheme after Miss Smith's death. - Credit: Archant

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“Within 12 hours of being in hospital she was dead. Her vital signs were checked but nothing whatsoever was done to treat her.

“All we want to make sure is that people with learning difficulties are dealt with properly to ensure people like Eileen get the treatment that able-bodied people receive.”

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Miss Smith had the mental age of about a five-year-old child and had limited communication skills.

She was taken from her care home in Welwyn Garden City to the QEII Hospital in the town after she began vomiting and became short of breath.

When her condition did not improve, she was transferred to Lister for overnight observation.

She carried a purple folder which all disabled people take with them when they go to hospital. It explained information about her, any medication she took and how she communicated.

Her family claim that some of the staff didn’t pay close enough attention to this folder which is why they believe no one picked up on non-verbal signals she may have been giving them.

They are currently pursuing legal action against the East and North Herts NHS Trust through medical negligence lawyers Leigh Day.

The NHS trust, which runs Lister Hospital, said this week that it is testing an electronic way of monitoring people’s vital signs on one of its wards.

This would replace the current paper system where staff are paged when a patient’s vitals become too high.

Angela Thompson, the NHS trust’s director of nursing , said: “We were all very saddened by Miss Smith’s death and, once again, we extend our sympathies to her family and friends.

“Following funding received from NHS England, the trust is one of a handful of NHS organisations trialling a new electronic observation system on our wards.

“Rather than information such as temperature, blood pressure, etcetera being written on paper charts, they are now entered in to an online system that escalates concerns automatically.

“This means that critical care outreach teams, among others, are alerted without the need to be bleeped by a member of the ward team, resulting in patients getting reviewed much more quickly than otherwise might be the case.”

Coroner Edward Thomas recorded a narrative verdict detailing the medical factors that caused Miss Smith’s death in February last year.

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