When your loved one dies unexpectedly in hospital it is only natural that you want to find out what happened.  Hospitals have a duty to release medical records and other documentation under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, yet they will go to great lengths to avoid handing over any damning evidence.  Without knowing the truth there can be no remedy or closure for the grieving family.  In this case both the ICO and The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman supported the hospital trust in denying full disclosure. PHSO, as usual, refused to investigate.  A conspiracy to cover-up the truth.  

Secrets and Files

Two years after a hospital authority was castigated over its appalling care and failure to properly investigate the subsequent death of elderly cancer patient, Graham Silkstone, (Eye 1282) his daughter is still battling to get hold of all the records and documentation in the case.

Mr Silkstone, 87, died in November 2008, in the BreconWarMemorialHospital, the morning after an exploratory operation. He was found on the floor, having ripped the alarm bell from the wall as he fell from his bed, and died 25 minutes later.

There were no records to show that nursing staff ever assessed or checked Mr Silkstone that morning – or indeed, since he had returned to the ward the previous evening vomiting blood clots . Neither did it appear he had received any food or water for 23 hours. A 30-page report by the Ombudsman for Wales was scathing of the Powys Teaching Health Board, (PTHB) responsible for the hospital.

Adding insult to injury,  Mr Silkstone’s bereaved daughter, Janet Treharne Oakley, faced a wall of obfuscation as she tried to find out what had gone wrong. As she  battled with the board to get answers she found managers were more interested in keeping his medical records from her, than they were in providing answers and remedying their sub-standard care.

Instead of the usual practice of handing over medical records to the next of kin in return for a fee, the PTHB were actually paying consultants, Public Partners Advice Consultancy and Training (P-PACT) to advise on what it did and did not  have to reveal.

Correspondence between the board and the consultants (eventually obtained via a Freedom of Information request)  insultingly described the grieving daughter as someone who is merely ‘looking out for something else to complain about ‘ adding  ‘that is why I am reluctant to let her have the notes’.  The Ombudsman  for Wales later found the notes that the board was reluctant to hand over were the ones which revealed  the hospital’s  poor clinical care.

Mrs Treharne Oakley has since learned that the hospital board is still keeping secret at least two other documents which  relate  to her and not to her father. She has no idea why they should hold any such material as she wasn’t a patient, but assumes the documents must relate to the investigation into her father’s death.

Initially the information Commissioners Office told her the hospital was not complying with the data  protection law and should hand the documents over. But after a challenge by the hospital board, it now says the documents contain information about another person who did not want the information revealed and whose details ‘cannot be simply redacted ‘. Undeterred Mrs Treharne Oakley  appealed to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, only to hit a brick wall, when it said the ICO was not acting ‘unreasonably’.

‘I’m shocked that the ICO and Ombudsman consider it in the public interest, in cases where the patient dies a negligent death, not to allow the bereaved to find out exactly what happened’ she says. So much for the new dawn in NHS ‘openness, transparency and candour’ following the inquiry into the unnecessary deaths and cover ups at Mid Staffordshire.

Secrets and Files …page 32. Private Eye  9-22 August, 2013

Cartoon by Pixomanic
Cartoon by Pixomanic