'Doctors took away my husband's rights' - widow

By Steve Hayes 20/03 Updated: 23/03 09:12

THE WIDOW of a terminally ill man who died after an operation neither he or his family had consented too insists he was robbed of his rights.

An inquest into the death of 64-year-old Stratford man, Gordon Johnston, heard he died from massive internal bleeding after an emergency operation, at Warwick Hospital, on April 21 last year.

Doctors had not obtained consent from Mr Johnston so they made the decision to do so on his behalf because of the urgency of the operation and the fact he was under the influence of a painkiller.

Mr Johnston's wife, Sandy, insisted as a result her husband was robbed of the right to agree to the procedure, of which he had not been properly informed of the risks, and that she and her family were never able to say goodbye.

The inquest, at Leamington Justice Centre, heard from the consultant who described Mr Johnston's case as 'particularly harrowing' and difficult 'both clinically and emotionally'.

Mr Johnston, a retired sales and marketing manager, of Banbury Road, had gone to his GP complaining of weight loss and loss of appetite and was referred to Warwick Hospital on April 11.

The Consultant said he believed Mr Johnston had lymphoma - a treatable form of cancer - but he developed jaundice and this needed to be cleared before chemotherapy could begin.

Doctors agreed to do a procedure where a very thin needle is used to go through the liver in an attempt to unblock the biliary tract.

Consultant, Dr Ramachandran, said it was not until he went to operate he saw in Mr Johnston's paperwork no consent had been obtained.

But he said due to the timing of the Easter weekend Mr Johnston would have had to wait four days to have the operation done if they waited for him to come round to get his consent.

He and the Consultant decided it was essential to go ahead so they signed a 'best interest' consent form on his behalf and the operation went ahead.

But back on the ward Mr Johnston developed massive internal bleeding, a rare complication to the operation, and he died.

It was not until after his death tests on a biopsy revealed cancer had spread throughout his body and he had just weeks to live.

Speaking during the inquest, Mrs Johnston, who herself worked in medicine, said her husband was unaware of the risks involved in the procedure.

She said: "He should have been told. The decision to go ahead took away his right to decide.

"I accept the doctors acted in his best interests but this should only be done when the patient is aware of the risk and he was not.

"Even a few weeks would have given us a chance to say goodbye, or a chance for his mother and other family members to see him."

Deputy coroner, David Clark, said his verdict of death by misadventure recognised the procedure had led to 'unexpected and tragic consequences'.

But while he recognised the doctors were acting in the patient's best interests, he said the consent form had not been filled in correctly and urged the trust to look into the process.

He said: "What is clear is that the absence of complete paperwork could lay the individual doctors and the trust open to some criticism."

Glen Burley, chief executive of the trust, said the case had raised 'important learning points' regarding the consent procedure but stressed it had been recognised the team had acted in the best interests of Mr Johnston and he also stressed it was recognised there were no issues with the clinical care provided for Mr Johnston.

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