Claims hospital contributed to death

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2013

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The family of an Auckland man claim an incorrectly inserted saline drip caused his body to balloon to more than 150kg, contributing to his death days after he was released from hospital.

Michael David Baker, 44, died at home 10 days after being discharged from North Shore Hospital, where he was receiving treatment for the skin condition cellulitis.

Although the Waitemata District Health Board denied any "substantial departure from accepted clinical standards of care" in this case, the family believes Baker received substandard treatment in hospital,

They have laid a complaint with police, and the hospital has said it will review Baker's care.

The Baker family believe because he suffered from Prader Willi syndrome - a complex condition where a complete lack of control leads to an insatiable appetite causing morbid obesity - nursing staff did not give him the best treatment.

The family's general practitioner agrees. "From what [the family] have said, it sounds like he didn't get good care and I would imagine he got put in a box - you're somebody who doesn't look after yourself and we're not going to look after you either," said the GP, who did not want to be named.

"It's incredibly sad and inappropriate."

The doctor said if Baker had stayed in hospital longer and received adequate treatment, it could have meant the difference between life and death.

"Sooner or later he was going to die because he was in a very compromised situation and his heart was struggling, but I certainly didn't expect him to die then and there," the doctor said.

"He shouldn't have been out of hospital. When I saw him at home, obviously the family had lost all trust in the hospital and had he had a better experience in hospital I would have sent him straight back."

North Shore Hospital has a record of problems. In 2009 then Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson released a damning report into the treatment of five patients who he ruled suffered "substandard care" in overcrowded and understaffed wards.

The 131-page report said: "What emerges is a picture of an overcrowded hospital, staff who were stretched and stressed, and patients and families who were left in the dark. Although the standard of medical care was largely reasonable, the nursing care was not. The nurses did not have time to care."

The hospital will review the case.

"This review will be conducted by an independent medical expert who will work closely with Michael's family to look into their concerns," said Debbie Eastwood, general manager for general medicine and health of older people.

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She said Baker was reviewed and cleared for discharge from hospital.

"He was not referred back to the hospital nor was the service notified of any change in condition.

"The initial post-mortem has determined the cause of death as complications from his long-term illness," Eastwood said.

Baker was admitted to hospital on May 14 with "terrible pain", his father, Peter Baker, said.

He walked in weighing 132kg. Nine days later he left, and Peter Baker says his son's body was "almost a third as big" and he needed help walking out of the hospital. When he died on June 7 he weighed 153kg.

Peter Baker blames a botched saline drip inserted into the body tissue instead of a vein.

"He told me he could feel the cold of the liquid and they said it was normal," said his mother, Sheila Baker.

"When he woke up his arm was so heavy he couldn't lift it and he could feel all this liquid."

The water retention caused his body to become "completely misshapen" and the family were "astounded" when they saw him in hospital.

Sheila Baker said the fluid was still visible in her son's body by the time he died and his left arm was left "badly bruised" by the "trauma".

The family also claim dressings on his legs were not changed regularly. They say in one incident he was sitting in a chair with liquid from sores "dripping so badly there was a pool of water by his foot" and he was accused of wetting himself by a hospital cleaner.

"They mistreated him as a patient and disrespected him as a human being," said his brother, Gregg Baker.

Gregg Baker laid a complaint with the North Shore Police alleging his brother received negligent care from the Waitemata Health Board over a period of two years.

The health board was not made aware of concerns Baker's family had about his care until contacted by the Sunday Star-Times as the family had not complained to the hospital.

- Sunday Star Times

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