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news: hospital failings contributed to graduate’s death

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Title/Topic: Hospital Failings Contributed to Graduate’s Death
Posted On: 6/2/2009
 
June 2 2009 (Haringey Independent) – Failings in communication between two hospitals contributed to the death of a promising young graduate fighting an ongoing battle with eating disorders, an inquest ruled.

Criminology graduate Alana Johnson, 25, of Hailsham Terrace, Enfield, who weighed less than XX stone*, had been undergoing treatment for anorexia and bulimia at the Phoenix ward of St Anns Hospital, in Tottenham.

But frail Alana had started drinking heavily and died on November 10, 2008, from alcoholic liver disease extremely rare for a person of her age.

Her dangerously low weight coupled with the history of alcohol misuse was a cause for concern, but doctors failed to share the results of tests proving the serious risk to her health.

She had regular contact with her GP, doctors at St Ann’s Hospital and over the course of 2007 and 2008, had admitted herself to the A&E; department at North Middlesex Hospital, in Edmonton, several times with complaints of abdominal pain and vomiting blood.

Tests on admission revealed the significant damage to her liver would quickly return to normal, so doctors dismissed it as short-term damage as the result of a heavy binge session.

She was advised to seek help for her addiction but no doctor made an official referral to an appropriate rehabiliation agency.

At the inquest, a consultant surgeon from North Middlesex said a “social problem” like alcohol misuse was a matter for doctors at her eating disorder clinic.

But when further test results alarmed doctors, letters were sent to both Miss Johnson and her GP urging her to return for more blood tests. She never appeared and the matter was dropped.

Yet the vital information that showed the risk to her liver and could have helped Miss Johnson get treatment, was already in the care of staff at St Ann’s Hospital.

Doctor Mari Jenkins, from St Ann’s, admitted at Hornsey Coroners Court that she did not share the information because she had assumed it would have been looked into at North Middlesex.

Hornsey coroner Andrew Walker said: “Do you see my concern? A patient died from alcohol liver disease; all the signs were there, but I haven’t found a single piece of evidence to suggest that anyone did anything about it.”

In October 2008, Miss Johnson had told her concerned family she wanted to make a fresh start and planned to return to university to study a Masters degree and pursue her ambition of becoming an education therapist working with children with emotional difficulties.

Doting father Mr Clovis Batchelor agreed to let her move in to a new home in Enfield for a fresh start with the promise she would check in with him every day.

Three weeks later, he found her malnourished body next to two empty bottles of vodka and Southern Comfort.

Recording a narrative verdict, Dr Walker said: “There was a failure to communicate between agencies in the treatment of Miss Johnson and that failure contributed to her death.”

Mr Batchelor expressed his gratitude for the coroner’s verdict and for the way he had handled the case, having adjourned it twice to ensure medical staff would be placed under proper scrutiny.

He said: “I agree with the verdict. Alana slipped through the net. As a family we tried to be supportive but she hid so much from us and because of patient and doctor confidentiality we were always left in the dark.

“I cannot help thinking that if the doctors had shared information between themselves we would not be here.”

Miss Johnson’s sister Shereen Batchelor said: “Time and time again we hear about professionals failing to communicate or share information properly. How many people have to die before they realise they have to get this right?

“The average person cannot afford private treatment so it is vital the NHS does its best for those who rely on it.”

St Ann’s Hospital has since set up a new project providing treatment for up to 200 eating disorder patients also struggling with alcohol addictions.

Miss Batchelor added: “They might say this had nothing to do with Alana’s death, but I feel they could have practically named it after her.”

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* Weight removed by Pale Reflections
 

 
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