'They treated him as if he was nothing'
When Paul Wilkinson was admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital a year ago he was a fit and healthy man with, in the words of his loving family, 'the world at his feet'.
In a happy relationship with partner Louise, father to 18-month Alfie and loved by her two daughters from a previous relationship, Paul had never been happier.
His only worries were nagging muscle pains which combined with flu-like symptoms left the 45-year-old agricultural machinery salesman fearing he was coming down with a virus.
His GP had weeks before diagnosed a rheumatological condition, similar to the one suffered by his mother and prescribed steroids which initially eased his aching muscles.
But on May 26 he was struck down with crippling stomach pains. Louise, having worked for 21 years at the Vic, and knowing Paul’s usual stoicism, made sure he attended A&E.
Despite his pain he was in good spirits, the same old Paul she knew and loved. Six days later he was dead from multiple organ failure, his digestive system rotted away by sepsis.
Louise, a former bowel cancer screening nurse, said: “Paul had not slept well due to significant pain and was rushed to hospital at 6am on the Friday before the Bank Holiday weekend and admitted to A&E as a priority case.
“Paul was not one to complain but he was left in the corridor for more than an hour at one point and was shouting out in pain, but he was simply given some paracetamol.
“The staff didn’t take his pain seriously despite two indicators showing that he had an infection.
“Over the course of the next six days, his condition just got worse, but he was initially only seen by junior doctors.
“I was going back and forth from the hospital to look after our three children and witnessed medical staff simply reacting to his individual symptoms as they presented themselves rather than looking at the bigger picture to identify the real cause of his pain.
“I was desperately shocked at the lack of care given to Paul even though he was visibly getting worse and experiencing a lot of pain.
“No one seemed to take his condition seriously although he was displaying several very serious symptoms. Paul was visibly terrified when he was sent to intensive care.
“I never thought that that would be the last time that I’d speak to him.”
Louise and Paul’s family, all from Lytham, are convinced Paul would have stood a better chance of survival had he been admitted to the hospital at any other time than a bank holiday.
After a period in A&E he spent time on a trolley in a corridor before being admitted to the acute ward. When his conditioned worsened he was sent to intensive care.
Andrew, who admits he idolised his big brother, said: “Paul walked into that hospital as a fit and healthy man with the world at his feet. A few days later he was dead because no one was prepared to call a consultant for advice or take responsibility for his case.
“Paul had everything he had ever wanted - a loving relationship and Alfie, who he used to refer to as his son and heir.
“He was someone who was known all over Lytham where he had lived his entire life. At the age of 45 he was in his prime with everything to look forward to. He used to say he had never been happier.”
As a child, Paul attended St Peter’s and St Bede’s schools and served as an altar boy at St Peter’s Church.
Louise said: “Paul was everything to us and the hospital treated him as if he was nothing.
“No one seemed to be interested in his treatment. We had to fight all the time. There were posters all over the walls warning of the dangers of sepsis, but no-one seemed to consider that might be the problem.
“He skin was purple and mottled and that is a common sign of sepsis but the nurses said he was suffering a reaction to morphine. The painkillers were doing him no good because he kept vomiting them back up.
“At one point they said he was constipated and gave him an enema. We believe that would have further perforated his bowel and led to the infection being spread further around his body.
“Paul was treated like an inconvenience. He wasn’t urinating and was constantly writhing in pain - this is a man who never complained about being ill in his life.
“Alfie will grow up without his father now. Paul was treated like a piece of meat and I can never forgive that.”
At the last minute, the decision was taken at last to operate on Paul. Doctors believed it would be possible to remove the infected part of Paul.s bowel.
The effects of the operation would be debilitating but it would mean he would survive to live many more years. Louise, however, knew it was too little, too late.
When they opened Paul up, they discovered his entire digestive system from his rectum to throat had rotted away through sepsis. Lousie said: “I wish they had just given him some dignity and let him die. I knew it was too late, but they thought they had to do something because they had left him to suffer for so long and were worried it would make them look bad.
“Paul spent the last days of his life in agony and even at the end they couldn’t give him some peace.”
Andrew continued: “Paul was my big brother. He was one of those blokes who are happy-go-lucky but spread happiness wherever they go.
“He deserved a lot better than this.”
Louise said: “I worked in the NHS for 20 years. I know what the procedures are and those procedures were not carried out properly over that bank holiday weekend.
“It wasn’t a staffing issue - there were plenty of junior staff on duty. However, there were no senior staff to make the kind of decisions which could have saved Paul’s life. The staff were afraid to refer life or death decisions upstairs to a consultant over the holiday.”
Medical negligence specialist Diane Rostron said: “Paul suffered very poor care during his final days and despite being admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital as a priority, was not seen by a consultant until 54 hours later during which his symptoms progressively worsened. There were no trained nurses available to care for him and his medical care was initially left to junior doctors and healthcare assistants.
“Our investigations have found that there were multiple failures in giving Paul the medical attention and treatment required. Paul’s condition deteriorated rapidly during his six day stay and we believe that his death was entirely preventable.”
The hospital's response:
Professor Mark O’Donnell, Medical Director at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “On behalf of the Trust I would like to offer my sincere apologies to Mr Wilkinson’s family.
“We are deeply sorry that the care we provided failed him and his family.
“Following this tragic incident in May 2017 we immediately commenced a careful and detailed internal investigation and shared the findings of that investigation with Mr Wilkinson’s family and with HM Coroner.
“We have implemented a number of actions as a result of the investigation into Mr Wilkinson’s death. As a consequence of these actions and work we were already undertaking we have seen significant improvements in the care of patients treated for sepsis in the Trust.
“We appreciate that this has been a very difficult time for the family and our thoughts are with them.”