For more than three hours after Donald Driver died, his daughter, Emma, hugged her beloved father and held his hand.
‘I kissed him, I said I loved him and I was so sorry this had happened,’ says Emma, who describes sitting in a side room at Coventry’s University Hospital next to the body of the man she calls her ‘world’ as surreal: ‘I never thought my dad would die that night.’
Nor, indeed, does she believe he should have died, insisting that, were it not for the appalling care — or lack of it — that Donald received from the hospital supposed to be treating him, he would still be alive today.
The 84-year-old had been rushed to the A&E department after complaining of crippling stomach pains at 6pm the Sunday before last.
Despite his advanced age, dangerously high blood pressure and a medical history that made him vulnerable, Donald was forced to lie on a trolley in a packed corridor for six hours, without so much as an aspirin to ease his pain as he waited to be seen.
Donald Driver, 84, had been rushed to A&E after complaining of crippling stomach pains at 6pm the Sunday before last. His daughter Emma, 31, said that when they arrived at Coventry’s University Hospital on October 13, it took just under two hours for paramedics to hand him over to hospital staff in the corridor. (Above, Mr Driver in the ambulance)
Emma’s repeated, desperate pleas for help went unheeded by staff, and it was only after he slid off his trolley, vomiting, that nurses finally came to his aid — by which time, it was too late to save him.
Attempts to resuscitate Donald failed and he was pronounced dead at 1am on Monday, October 14. A former nurse who appreciates more than most the pressure the NHS is under, Emma, 31, nonetheless believes the hospital catastrophically failed her father.
‘He was brought in as an emergency via a 999 call, but in six hours no one saw him. I shouted for help and no one came,’ she says.
‘Dad should have been prioritised. I strongly believe he would still be here if he had been looked at. Now I have to sort out a funeral due to what I consider was medical negligence.’
Her voice falters, her loss barely yet registered beyond the horrific manner in which it happened.
Despite his advanced age, dangerously high blood pressure and a medical history that made him vulnerable, Donald was forced to lie on a trolley in a packed corridor for six hours, without so much as an aspirin to ease his pain as he waited to be seen. (Above, Mr Driver with Emma)
Donald, a retired council worker who loved his allotment, went to church every Sunday and was devoted to Andrea, his wife of 34 years, who describes him as a ‘gentle’ man who ‘didn’t like a fuss’.
Dapper and handsome, he liked collecting stamps and being outdoors on the boat he kept at Coventry canal. And as an older father — 53 when his only child was born — Donald was especially close to Emma.
Although found to have a hole in his oesophagus — the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach — which caused fluid to build up in his abdomen last June, an operation to drain the fluid and stitch the hole was successful. Bar the health niggles common to many his age, he continued to enjoy life.
‘He mowed the lawn and pottered about in the garden,’ says Andrea, 72, a softly spoken woman who admits she is simply ‘going through the motions’ at the moment, and leaves her daughter to explain the awful events of the past fortnight.
Not that Emma — who has a five-year- old daughter, Layla, with her partner, Sam, 31, an engineer — is anywhere close to acceptance either.
Signed off work sick and talking to the Mail from her smart terrace home in Tile Hill, Coventry, her quiet fury is interspersed with tearful silences. Since the circumstances surrounding Donald’s death became national news this week, she has been overwhelmed by public sympathy and anger for his plight, and although discussing her father’s last moments is painful, she is determined to do so in the hope it will help prevent any other family suffering as hers has done.
‘I don’t think I’ve grieved because of how much has gone on,’ she says. ‘It’s only at night when it’s quiet that I realise he’s not here, I no longer have a dad, and I close my eyes and relive what happened.’
In a week in which the Care Quality Commission, the NHS watchdog, revealed that a third of A&E patients have to wait more than an hour before being assessed by a medic, Donald’s undignified death is both desperately sad and symptomatic of the crisis in our overstretched hospitals, where A&E is too often used as a first stop rather than a last resort.
Emma went to hospital with her father (above): ‘There were about 40 trolleys head to toe and up against walls,’ recalls Emma, who says she had seen nothing like it in her 12 years in the nursing profession. ‘It was horrendous’
So how on earth did this loving grandfather come to spend his final hours neglected by hospital staff on a trolley?
Although afflicted by hearing and eyesight problems, Donald appeared in otherwise good health last June when he experienced stomach pains at his bungalow in Earlsdon, Coventry. He was taken to University Hospital, where scans revealed he had a small hole on his oesophagus which had been causing liquid to build up in his abdomen.
A tube was inserted through his nose and into his stomach to drain five litres of fluid that had accumulated, and the hole stitched back up.
Two days after the operation he was discharged with daily medication to prevent the build-up of stomach acid — tablets he took until his death. Emma says an endoscopy six weeks later found his wound had healed.
After his recovery, a relieved Emma took Donald to toy fairs — he was an avid fan of collectible cars — and museums. There was a family holiday to the Lincolnshire coast in August, and he saw his grand- daughter every day.
‘Although he was elderly, he wasn’t dying,’ says Emma, whose close bond with her father had developed after Donald retired from his job overseeing Coventry’s street lights for the city council when he was 62 and Emma was just nine.
Andrea — more than ten years Donald’s junior and with two older children from her first marriage — remained in her job, disposing of used vehicles for the council.
‘We spent holidays together and he’d go through his stamp collection with me,’ says Emma, who, two years ago, swapped her nursing job at Leamington Spa’s Rehabilitation Hospital for a less demanding position as a sales consultant so she could spend more time with her father. ‘I’d do anything for him.’
She was cooking dinner for her parents two weeks ago when Donald arrived at 4.30pm complaining of a stomach ache. He didn’t touch his favourite sausages and mash, saying he felt ‘full’, just as he had when his abdomen had filled with fluid. Soon, he was struggling to breathe.
At 6pm, Emma — concerned her father could have a complication related to his ruptured oesophagus — called 999 and accompanied Donald in the ambulance to University Hospital while Andrea remained at her daughter’s home with Layla.
Although they arrived at A&E at 6.30pm, the department was so busy that they had to wait in a corridor outside and paramedics — who stayed with Emma and Donald — were unable to give his handover notes to a nurse until 8pm.
‘There were about 40 trolleys head to toe and up against walls,’ recalls Emma, who says she had seen nothing like it in her 12 years in the nursing profession. ‘It was horrendous.’
Donald lay in agony on a trolley with a sheet and no pillow before he slid off, while vomiting, and died soon after. A spokesman for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust said: ‘The Trust would like to offer its sincere and heartfelt sympathies to Mr Driver’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time’
Donald’s comprehensive notes detailed not only his previous medical history but very high blood pressure that made paramedics suspect he had an infection. Yet after he was transferred to a hospital trolley, the nurse who took the notes proceeded to the next patient, her workload compounded, Emma believes, by people who shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
‘I overheard one nurse saying a patient had taken two paracetamol and a cold and flu tablet and thought they’d overdosed. Other people were on and off their trolley beds going for cigarettes or on their phones as if they weren’t in pain,’ she says. ‘They could easily have gone to the walk-in centre instead of A&E.’
Meanwhile, Donald’s stomach had started to swell. ‘He wasn’t a man to complain, but he kept asking when he would be seen and for aspirin to ease the pain. I felt powerless.’
At 8.20pm, Emma showed a nurse a picture she had taken of her father’s even more swollen stomach last June to stress the potential severity of his situation. In response, she says, she was told: ‘We’re busy. He’ll be seen.’
‘That’s pretty much all I got told,’ she says now. ‘No one even came to ask: ‘Are you OK?’ ‘
Over the next four hours, Emma says she spoke to six doctors and nurses, only to be fobbed off — their refusal to help, she believes, a combination of overcrowding and disinterest. ‘I was angry and upset that certain people were taking up beds and medical time when they didn’t need to be, and frustrated that nurses and doctors weren’t listening to me,’ she says.
‘I said I appreciated they were busy, but he hadn’t been seen. Not once did anyone come.’
Meanwhile, Donald lay in agony on a trolley with a sheet and no pillow. ‘I took his shoes off to make him more comfortable,’ Emma says. ‘I had my hand on him. I said I’d try to do whatever I could.’
He wasn’t a man to complain, but he kept asking when he would be seen and for aspirin to ease the pain. I felt powerless.
Donald Driver’s daughter, Emma
Donald’s last words to his beloved daughter were ‘thank you very much for everything you do’.
At 12.30am, Donald vomited, bringing up the same orange fluid Emma had seen drained from his stomach last June.
Terrified, she says: ‘I was shouting for help. I held him as he tried to sit up, (the fluid) kept pouring out and he slid off the trolley, and it was only then that two nurses very reluctantly came to get him on the trolley.’
Their hesitance, she thinks, was partly due to the fact there was fluid everywhere and they weren’t wearing gloves or aprons.
‘I’ve been in that sort of emergency myself,’ she says, believing, however, the pressure nurses are put under should not prevent them doing their job: ‘You’re in the job because you love it. You find ways to cope.’
She realised her dad was ‘gone’ after he’d been put back on the trolley. ‘He was very pale. His eyes were open but very glazed,’ she says. ‘I just knew.’ That was when a team of six medics rushed him into the A&E department and frantically attempted to resuscitate him.
Emma — who had her father’s power of attorney — refused to leave the room. ‘After three minutes, I shouted: ‘Just stop, please, stop.’ It was horrendous. My dad would not have wanted this.
‘They said they were very sorry. The doctor listened to me and said he should have been seen sooner. He couldn’t apologise enough.’ Andrea, fully dressed at home and hoping to be called to pick her husband up, was instead told he had died. She arrived at hospital at around 2am, where she and Emma sat, stunned, with Donald’s body until 4.30am.
When Emma told Layla her grandad had ‘gone to heaven’ the next day the little girl burst into tears. ‘She asked why I let him die,’ Emma says. ‘I told her I didn’t.’ Later that week, the Coroner’s office called Emma to say it had not been possible to establish a cause of death.
‘I was angry. How could there not have been a cause of death?’ asks Emma, who says returning to her parents’ home to arrange Donald’s affairs was ‘hard and emotional’.
She says: ‘The hearing aid I had to nag him to wear was on the table, his pyjamas were folded on top of his pillow. The dressing gown was on the bottom of the bed, his slippers on the floor. He should have come home to that.’
Samples of Donald’s organs will have to be analysed, and it could be three months before the family finds out how he died, prolonging their pain.
The hospital’s director of nursing has phoned Emma to say how sorry she was for what had happened to Donald, and that an investigation is under way, while the hospital trust has admitted that the night Donald died had been ‘abnormally busy’.
A spokesman for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust said: ‘The Trust would like to offer its sincere and heartfelt sympathies to Mr Driver’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time.
‘We have been in contact with the family and have invited them to be actively involved in our review process so we can investigate this matter thoroughly.’
Emma is now preparing for her father’s funeral — after the ceremony at St Barbara’s Church in Earlsdon, Coventry, which Donald attended for more than three decades, he will be cremated in the smart black suit and bow tie he wore for his 80th birthday party.
She says lessons must be learned: ‘I want the public to be aware that A&E is for emergencies. It’s not made clear enough that patients die when people come in with minor ailments.’
As for the NHS staff who so tragically overlooked her dad, she says: ‘I feel angry and disappointed. I appreciate the stress they are under and how busy they are, but they’ve got to prioritise who needs to be seen. This could have been avoided.’