The family of a man who died of sepsis after undergoing chemotherapy are demanding changes after a hospital trust admitted breaching their duty of care.
Frank Bird, 55, died from multiple organ failure after spending three years in and out of hospital with abdominal pains. He suffered abdominal sepsis believed to have been caused by an abscess in his pancreas.
But the family took legal action against University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and secured an undisclosed payment.
They have now spoken out to raise awareness of the dangers of sepsis - and said were never made aware of the dangers. When he was diagnosed with Lymphoma cancer in April 2019, his family even pushed for him to undergo chemotherapy - something they wouldn’t have done if his condition was known.
What have the family said?
Sharan, Frank’s youngest daughter, said: “We didn’t know he had sepsis. If I had I wouldn’t have agreed for chemotherapy to go ahead. Chemo suppresses your immune system and I’d have been concerned having treatment would have made his condition worse.
“When the doctors said there wasn’t anything we could do we took Dad home because he wanted to be at home surrounded by his family. We looked after and made him as comfortable as possible until he passed away. To see Dad go from the person he was into a fearful, confused and tearful man will never leave me.
When the post-mortem was carried out and we were told that dad had died from sepsis we were so shocked. It’s worrying to think that sepsis accounts for so many deaths, yet it remains a condition that too many people don’t really understand or know about.”Dad wanted us to raise awareness of what had happened to him so we just hope that by speaking out we can help others.”
Following the post mortem results, Frank’s family were instructed by expert medical negligence lawyers Irwin Mitchell to investigate his care. The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Queen Elizabeth Hospital has admitted to a breach of duty in that it should have removed Frank’s gallbladder in 2016. It also admitted a delay in referring Frank to a specialist dietitian. The Trust has paid an undisclosed settlement to the family too.
Jade Elliott-Archer, the specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Sharan, said: “Frank’s death has had a profound effect on his partner and the rest of the family who are all still struggling to come to terms with the events that unfolded.
“Frank spent the last weeks of his life in discomfort and pain which had a traumatic affect on his family. Understandably the family had a number of concerns, particularly around how his condition deteriorated after he was admitted to hospital.
“Nothing can make up for their loss but we’re pleased that we’ve at least been able to provide Frank’s loved ones with the answers they deserve. We now call on the Trust to learn lessons from its admitted breaches of duty to improve patient care for others.”
The dad-of-four and granddad-of-six was first admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in 2016 with abdominal pains, vomiting and weight loss.
During this appointment he was told his complications were caused by his gallbladder and he would require surgery. However, he received no follow up appointment to carry out the operation. Over the next two years, Frank continued to struggle on with his discomfort. It wasn’t until 9 March 2019 that a more painful flare up caused him to return to hospital for a CT scan.
Following the scan – which found a mass on his pancreas- Frank spent 12 days in hospital and was then able to return home. But, during his time in hospital, his family grew concerned over his weight loss due to his lack of eating and drinking in hospital and was referred to a dietitian.
Two days after his return home from hospital, Frank experienced breathing problems and a fever. He was then re-admitted by ambulance to hospital where he was told he had developed a bacterial infection and Frank was put on antibiotics to treat a potential sepsis outbreak.
On 28 March, he under went a dietitian review but by this point Frank’s condition had begun to deteriorate.
In April 2019, he was diagnosed with cancer lymphoma. At this point, his family were unaware Frank had developed sepsis so gave him the ‘all clear’ to undergo chemotherapy to treat the cancer. Following chemo, Frank spent several weeks in intensive care. He was then transferred to a new ward and his family believed he was recovering but, doctors said nothing more could be done to save him.
On 13 May Frank returned home to be in the comfort of his family and he died a week later. This month the family spoke out about the loss of Frank for the first time to support Sepsis Awareness Month.
‘Nobody was questioning why a previously fit man could no longer get out of bed or eat’
Sharan, added: “Dad was a strong-willed family man. We all looked up to Dad, he held our family together and we never underestimated his ability to light up the room.
When Dad walked into hospital for the CT scan he was his usual happy and cheeky self and had been working up until that point.“
“However, from there we were shocked at how quickly things changed. He went from being the outgoing and humorous person we knew, to a shadow of himself. Within a few days he seemed to be struggling to walk and had to use a wheelchair.
“He couldn’t eat or drink, he was in a lot of pain, he was struggling to breathe and had blue blotches all over his legs. We were surprised that he was allowed home. We tried to look after Dad the best we could, but he was so unwell, so we made the decision that it was best for him to back into hospital. Within a few days of been readmitted he had lost so much weight, but his belly was huge. We were concerned about his inability to eat properly and raised this several times as we were so concerned that Dad wasn’t taking his tablets orally due to not being able to swallow.
“To us it felt like nobody but us was questioning why a previously fit man could no longer get out of bed, eat, or drink. Dad was falling apart in front of our eyes and it’s difficult not to think would he have stood a chance at life if he received the right care.“Dad became really distressed at what was happening to him. The biopsy results still weren’t known and my Dad was worried that by the time he got a confirmed diagnosis he’d be too poorly to recover.”
Unversity Hospitals Birmingham statement
A spokesperson for University Hospitals Birmingham said: “The Trust extends its deepest sympathies to the family, friends and loved ones of Mr Frank Bird, we know his loss is felt deeply.
“In such sad cases, and with all incidents, the Trust is committed to ensuring that the right lessons are learned to continually enhance the care we provide.”
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