Nurses may not have believed Northampton woman’s fear she had broken her back inquest hears

Claire Masters.
Claire Masters.

An inquest into the death of a Northampton woman who died after breaking her back at Berrywood Hospital has heard how some nurses did not believe her injuries were real - even though she may have endured a fracture for 16 days.

Claire Masters had a history of paranoid schizophrenia and after an incident where she tried to harm herself on September 5, 2014, she was admitted to the Harbour Ward of Berrywood Hospital.

The 57-year-old collapsed from a respiratory failure on September 25. Doctors discovered she had suffered two fractures to her spine and she died on October 16 as a result of a subsequent infection.

At an inquest into her death this week, a jury heard how Miss Masters had made regular attempts to harm herself at Berrywood, including by “throwing herself from her chair onto the floor” and “banging her head.”

It is likely her spine was broken in an act of self harm, the jury heard, though it is not certain when the fractures occurred.

Evidence given by a consultant neurosurgeon suggested the first fracture could have occurred as early as September 9, a total of 16 days before doctors eventually discovered it.

However Jo Bradley, a part-time health care assistant working on the Harbour Ward at the time, felt staff had failed to attend to Miss Masters’ physical concerns throughout her stay, even though the 57-year-old had explicitly told nurses she believed she had broken her back.

Ms Bradley gave the evidence during an interview with Antoinette Jones, one of the co-investigators charged with drawing up a “serious incident report” in the aftermath of Miss Masters’ death.

Speaking at the inquest Ms Jones said: “In her (Jo Bradley’s) opinion Claire required more painkillers.

“She said that Claire spoke about her back being broken, her neck being broken.

“She (Ms Bradley) believed that we had failed Claire.

“She said that we were being unsympathetic and we didn’t believe Claire.”

Ms Bradley claims to have spoken about her concerns to senior nurses at the time, though Ms Jones’ report found no evidence of this having happened.

Miss Masters’ key worker at Berrywood, Laura Kite was also called to the stand yesterday and claimed that while the Miss Masters did complain about having a broken back, she did not show any obvious signs, such as immobility, during her time at Berrywood, between September 6 and 25.

The inquest had already heard how a number of doctors missed the injuries to Miss Masters’ spine earlier in the week, but the key worker was questioned whether nurses missed opportunities to inform doctors of their physical observations.

On September 21, Ms Kite claims she saw Miss Masters “walk across the room and sit herself on a beanbag” and she could also “walk herself to the toilet.”

Later that day she claimed Miss Masters kicked her in a “de-escalation room” following an incident where the patient had tried to harm herself.

But under questioning from the coroner Belinda Cheney, Miss Kite revealed that some staff on the ward had “negative attitudes towards Claire” due to the nature of her behaviour.

Donald Bermingham, a consultant asked to carry out an independent review of Miss Masters’ care under the Northamptonshire Healthcare Trust, described the standard of nursing on Harbour ward in late 2014 as “poor.”

He said that a number of observations of Miss Masters were not recorded on some occasions and he questioned why, on September 22, Miss Masters was not subject to one-to-one monitoring, having tried to harm herself the previous day.

“The description I was reading was of a dysfunctional ward,” he told the coroner.

The inquest continues.