Widower blames wife’s death on Northampton General Hospital’s failure to pick up hip fracture

A County Hall inquest into the death of a Spinney Hill woman at Northampton General Hospital has returned a narrative verdict.
A County Hall inquest into the death of a Spinney Hill woman at Northampton General Hospital has returned a narrative verdict.

A widower believes his wife would have survived had Northampton General Hospital doctors diagnosed her fractured hip sooner in the run up to her death.

Irish born Esther McKenna, of Ledaig Way, Spinney Hill, passed away after contracting pneumonia while at the hospital on October 14, 2013.

She had been admitted to the accident and emergency department after falling while trying to pick a cup up from a table at her home on October 5, which knocked her unconscious.

But an inquest into her death yesterday revealed that doctors missed signs of an undisplaced fracture in her femur until five days after her admission, believing it to be heavy bruising, which her husband Patrick, 84, believed contributed to her death.

He said: “If my wife had been diagnosed properly in the first place we would not have been going through this now.”

Mr McKenna said that he, his wife and paramedics who treated her at home, all suspected that she had a fractured hip.

Mrs McKenna suffered from a number of complicated health issues including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma, severe back pain, hypertension and stroke.

In his postmortem report into Mrs McKenna’s death, Dr David Fattah also believed that the delay in diagnosing the fracture “minimally contributed to Mrs McKenna’s death.”

However he said the pneumonia was the main cause when considering Mrs Mckenna’s other underlying health issues.

The inquest heard how Mrs McKenna was first assessed by Dr Adburraham Nagjar in the accident and emergency ward, who said X-rays did not appear to show signs of a fracture.

He referred the scans to consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Muztar Faizi, who chose not to order a second X-ray or an MRI scan of the patient, because Mrs McKenna could move her leg.

He told the inquest: “Moving a leg with a fracture is something we don’t see. I have not seen that before.

“I was very surprised that a fracture was identified and when I discussed this with a consultant he was very surprised as well.”

While first displaying signs of pain in her back and hips, by October 10, Mrs McKenna was showing signs of infection and doctors began treating her for pneumonia.

The inquest heard from more than one witness how elderly people are considered a high risk of catching the infection while being treated at hospital.

The fact that doctor’s missed the fracture until another review of her hip X-rays on October 10 meant her condition had deteriorated so much, she was unsuitable for surgery. She died on October 14, having suffered multiple heart attacks.

Mr McKenna, had also raised concerns that his wife had been given too much morphine while at the Brampton Ward of the hospital, which specialises in elderly care.

“There had to be a cause for this pain,” he said. “But they were just pumping her with painkillers.

“By 2pm (On Wednesday, October 9) she had lost her voice and was totally unable to talk.”

He went on to say: “Her whole system shut down, there was no response from her, not even in her eyes.”

Specialist registrar in elderly medicine Dr Peter Rhead suspended Mrs McKenna’s morphine on Wednesday, October 9, suspecting she may have been suffering from a possible overdose.

However a serious incident review of the 80-year-old’s care concluded that doctors acted within medical guidelines by prescribing her strong painkillers from her admission, as the patient was suffering from intense pain in her hip and back.

The postmortem report did not attribute Mrs McKenna’s death to an overdose of opiates.

Concluding the inquest, coroner Anne Pember returned a narrative verdict.

She said: “I am unable to say whether early diagnosis of her hip fracture would have resulted in a different outcome.”

A spokesperson for Northampton General Hospital said: “This is a sad case and we would like to pass on our condolences and sympathy to the family of Mrs McKenna. We carried out our own investigation and completed a report which included an action plan to enhance the support we provide to patients who are admitted with falls.”