10/02/2016 10:53 GMT | Updated 10/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Tunbridge Wells Hospital's Weekend Policy Criticised After Grandmother's Death

A coroner has blasted a hospital over its failure to send a grandmother for a potentially life-saving CT scan amid its "highly unsatisfactory" weekend arrangements.

North west Kent senior coroner Roger Hatch said Sandra Wood, 69, died of natural causes "as a consequence of the failure by Tunbridge Wells Hospital to correctly diagnose and treat her".

He said Ms Wood should have had a CT scan "as a matter of urgency" after her GP referred her to the hospital with possible bowel obstruction late on the afternoon of Friday April 17.

But Ms Wood and her partner were told that "hospital policy" meant she was unlikely to receive the scan at the weekend, and that it could only be arranged for an emergency.

Instead, doctors discharged the mother-of-three late that Friday night with a prescription after diagnosing her with a urinary tract infection and constipation.

Retired shop assistant Ms Wood, from Burham, near Rochester, was told she could return to hospital after the weekend, on Monday April 20, for a CT scan.

But Mr Hatch said delaying the scan until Monday proved "critical". She collapsed at home and died at Maidstone Hospital on Saturday April 18.  

In his conclusion, Mr Hatch criticised the number of steps needed to arrange a CT scan at weekends at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

Sitting at Gravesend Old Town Hall following a day-long inquest last month, the coroner said he now plans to issue a Regulation 28 report in a bid to prevent another patient dying in similar circumstances.

Mr Hatch said: "Arrangements should have been put in hand for the CT scan to have been carried out on April 17/18 2015 due to the emergency situation that had occurred.

"It is highly unsatisfactory that facilities for a CT scan to be carried out at the weekend at Tunbridge Wells Hospital are not routinely available without having to go through a number of steps for this to be arranged.

"In this case, the delay until Monday was critical as the outcome has sadly demonstrated."

Ms Wood should not have been discharged with a constipation and urinary tract infection diagnosis, he added. 

The coroner's damning conclusion came on the day thousands of junior doctors across England went on strike in a dispute with the Government over a new contract.

The major sticking point in the disagreement is over weekend pay and whether Saturdays should be classed as normal "plain" time or should attract a premium.

Ms Wood's family has now launched civil proceedings against the hospital.

Relatives said the NHS trust should "do everything in its power" to prevent a repeat.

Ms Wood's daughter, midwife Amanda Sparkes, said: "The coroner has now confirmed what we always suspected - the hospital's policy not to carry out a scan caused this tragedy.

"It is devastating to think that had my mum been given the treatment she deserved she would have survived. It adds to our grief that had we not fought for answers and an inquest, we suspect this would have been put down as just another unfortunate death and there has been no pressure to find out what went wrong."

Tim Deeming, a clinical negligence lawyer for Slater and Gordon, which represents the family, said the coroner's findings were critical over its policy for scanning.

He said: "This tragedy must be a catalyst for improvements so that processes are put in place, both at the trust and across the NHS, to prevent a similar incident happening to another family."