Doctor at James Paget Hospital did not discuss resuscitation with great-grandfather to “avoid distress”
- Credit: PA
The doctor who placed a do not resuscitate notice on a great-grandfather who died in a Norfolk hospital has said she did not discuss the decision with him to avoid causing 'unnecessary distress'.
Former metal polisher and gardener Michael Richardson, 66, of Great Yarmouth, died at James Paget University Hospital (JPH) in Gorleston on October 27, 2013. He had been ill for several years with the lung condition pulmonary fibrosis.
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 without any consultation.
Dr Anna Blackburn, a consultant specialising in respiratory medicine at the hospital, said she had made the decision when he was admitted on October 24.
She said Mr Richardson had little chance of surviving a cardiac arrest and attempting to save him would have been 'futile and cruel'.
'I sat down and thought long and hard about it,' Dr Blackburn added.
'We had discussed his condition, he cried and he seemed quite upset about how it would affect his wife.
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'I felt bringing up resuscitation would be even more distressing for him.'
Patient confidentiality meant she could not approach Mr Richardson's family without first talking to him.
The inquest heard the hospital's policy at the time said it was not necessary to discuss a DNR decision if it would be 'unnecessarily burdensome' for the patient.
This policy has since been changed in light of a 2014 Court of Appeal ruling and now states that patients should be informed of the decision, unless this would cause physical harm.
'If I was faced with Mr Richardson today, I would have that discussion,' Dr Blackburn said.
Mrs Richardson challenged the doctor in the inquest, saying: 'My husband had a lot to live for even if it was for another week - I'm sorry your decision was very, very wrong.'
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' unless there were genuinely 'convincing reasons' not to.
He said that even well-intentioned attempts to spare patients 'distress' were not in themselves enough to justify keeping them in the dark.
Yesterday, hospital staff described how they had initially rushed to save Mr Richardson after he suffered a cardiac arrest. But they stopped when the DNR notice was brought to their attention.
Giving evidence, Mrs Richardson said her husband tried to discharge himself the day before his death.
'He said, 'I can't breathe, take 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.'
Dr James Crawfurd, A&E consultant and chairman of the trust's resuscitation committee, said he believed Dr Blackburn applied the policy correctly.
'Even if resuscitation had been successful, it would only have prolonged life by a few days,' he said.
The doctor added that he believed Dr Blackburn had 'correctly weighed up the pros and cons' of discussing the decision with the patient.