Board accused of neglecting patient's family

19:18, Dec 19 2012

The family of a woman who died after surgery at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim say the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board has never explained the death to them or offered any sympathy.

Lynn Weir said the family's only direct contact with board employees was at the deathbed of her sister Rachel Riddell. Staff members had then been very kind.

Yet board medical officer of health Heather McPherson told The Marlborough Express the board had offered the family "sincere condolences" when autopsy results were discussed with them. A sentinel event report prepared by the board and its consultants was made available to Ms Riddell's parents and a brother.

"There was a meeting with the family and a support person from the Jehovah's Witness church," Dr McPherson said.

Ms Riddell was 31 when she died of blood loss after a gall bladder operation at Wairau Hospital by surgeon Michael Parry in January last year. Brought up as a Jehovah's Witness, but no longer practising, she had requested "bloodless" surgery.

Ms Weir said Jehovah's Witness church members had been present as friends of the family when her sister died, but not in an official capacity.


Someone from the board had called her father, Peter Riddell, on the day of the funeral. Ms Weir said he recalls being warned if the family talked to the media they risked being "sued for slander".

On the first anniversary of Ms Riddell's death, the board sent her parents information for checking before it was given to the Express in response to questions.

Jehovah's Witness members had also visited Wairau Hospital after her sister's death to give staff information on bloodless surgery, Ms Weir said. This had not been a meeting to discuss the death and no family were present.

The Health and Disability Commission confirmed it would investigate her sister's death in December last year and had offered to mediate between her family the hospital, Ms Weir said. Her parents rejected the offer because so much time had passed.

"All the way through the board have stalled with providing information," Ms Weir said.

Now they were saying things that seemed to be untrue.

Dr McPherson said the phone call to the Riddell family on the day of the funeral was to alert them to media interest.

The board was checking whether it could now give the sentinel event report to the family while the coroner was investigating the death, she said.

The coroner has adjourned an investigation into two deaths after surgery at Wairau Hospital so police can complete their investigation into one of the deaths.

The Marlborough Express