Maitland Hospital at centre of dispute over antibiotics

A Beresfield woman has alleged that Maitland Hospital deliberately withheld antibiotics from her elderly mother while she was suffering from pneumonia.

Beverley McFadyen has been suffering from emotional turmoil for two and a half years since the death of her mum, Amy Ward.

“I left mum in there thinking she was being treated,” Mrs McFadyen said.

“To withdraw medication without talking to me – that was an abuse of power.”

Hunter New England Health denied that  Mrs Ward was not given antibiotics, but admitted that the hospital put her on a diet “which led to a diagnosis of aspirate pneumonia”.

“I wish to extend my heartfelt apology to Mrs Ward’s family and offer my condolences,” said Di Peers, general manager of Hunter New England Health’s Lower Hunter sector.

Mrs McFadyen is speaking publicly because the matter has been weighing heavily on her conscience and she wants to make others aware of her experience.

“It made me think, just what do doctors do behind people’s backs? How much power do they have?” she said, referring to the alleged decision to withhold antibiotics.

Mrs Ward was taken to the hospital on Christmas Day 2014, after falling and hitting her head.

She was aged 94, deaf and legally blind.

On Boxing Day she began suffering from aspiration pneumonia, which was allegedly caused by the hospital feeding her the wrong food.

“I didn’t see them coming to give mum any medication,” Mrs McFadyen said.

“She didn’t have a drip on and wasn’t receiving fluids.”

Mrs McFadyen alleged her mother was not given antibiotics at the hospital for the first week of her two-week stay.

Hunter New England Health denied this.

“Mrs Ward was administered intravenous (IV) antibiotic from the time she was admitted,” Ms Peers said.

“An additional IV antibiotic was provided to her six days later.

“Both of these antibiotics continued until January 8, 2015, when she was transferred to Hunter Valley Private Hospital.”

Mrs McFadyen said Maitland Hospital staff had suggested at the time that they “had the right” to withdraw medication.

Ms Peers said medical and nursing staff spent time with Mrs Ward and her family to discuss treatment options in response to her diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia.

She said it was agreed with the family that staff should provide comfort measures to Mrs Ward.

“Mrs Ward’s medical notes indicate that during these discussions the family stated she should not be resuscitated, intubated or ventilated in the event of cardiopulmonary arrest and a ‘no-CPR’ order was signed,” Ms Peers said.

Mrs McFadyen said she did not sign anything and neither did anyone in her family.

She had a copy of the resuscitation form, which proved she did not sign it.

She said doctors asked her and her brother to make a quick decision about whether her mother should be resuscitated, if she required it.

“Under pressure from hospital staff, we initially agreed that mum should not be resuscitated if she happened to get into that situation,” she said.

Ms Peers said families and patients were “able to change their minds at any time, which was the case for Mrs Ward when she began to improve”.

Mrs McFadyen said she knew she had “the option to change my mind and that’s what I did”.

“I told them I did want mum resuscitated, if she needed it,” she said.

Furthermore, Mrs McFadyen said there was no discussion about whether or not her mum should be given antibiotics or her other usual medication.

Mrs McFadyen alleged her mum would not have contracted aspiration pneumonia if she had not been given the wrong food at Maitland Hospital.

She alleged a nurse gave chicken to Mrs Ward by accident on Boxing Day – the second day of Mrs Ward’s stay in the hospital.

“She was meant to be given pureed food because she had trouble swallowing ordinary food,” Mrs McFadyen said.

“I told the hospital that half a dozen times. It was stated in her files anyway.”

Mrs McFadyen alleged her mum inhaled a piece of chicken into her lungs, which caused aspiration pneumonia.

“Mum fed herself the chicken. She wasn’t one to complain or question things.

“She assumed they’d give her the right food, like I did.”

Ms Peers, of Hunter New England Health, said Mrs Ward was “assessed by the medical and nursing staff to have been on a diet of thickened fluid” on admission to Maitland Hospital.

“Mrs Ward was re-assessed by medical staff and ordered mild thickened fluid and soft diet – this includes cut-up chicken,” Ms Peers said.

“Unfortunately, Mrs Ward struggled with this diet, which led to a diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia.”

Ms Peers said Mrs Ward did receive IV fluids at the hospital to keep her hydrated.

However, Mrs McFadyen alleged her mum was dehydrated and malnourished when she left Maitland Hospital.

“Her urine was dark brown,” she said.

Mrs McFadyen alleged another incident in which nursing staff forgot to replace her mum’s urine bag.

“They removed a urine bag and didn’t put a fresh one back on. Mum’s urine was going all under the bed.”

After two weeks in Maitland Hospital, Mrs McFadyen transferred her mum to Hunter Valley Private Hospital at Shortland.

“When she got there, they had her sitting up,” Mrs McFadyen said. 

“They fed her some pureed food and fluid and they gave her strong antibiotics intravenously.”

Mrs McFadyen said her mum’s files show that when she arrived at the private hospital, she was malnourished.

Mrs Ward died at Lake Macquarie Private Hospital at Gateshead in April 2015, a few months after her time at Maitland.