Family's shock at 'do not resuscitate' decision for mother, 91

Alma Palmer, front, with son Patrick and son-in-law Brian O'Connel

Alma Palmer was treated at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for three days after testing positive for Covid-19 - Credit: Archant

A son has spoken of his shock after it emerged hospital staff had been told not to resuscitate his 91-year-old mother without consulting with her family.

Patrick Palmer's mum, Alma, was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) last week after testing positive for Covid-19, where she was treated for three days.

The former deputy headteacher was discharged back into the care of her son in Norwich, having seen signs of improvement.

However, the family was shocked to learn that during her stay staff had received a "do not attempt resuscitation" (DNAR) instruction on her, meaning that had her condition worsened she would not have been brought around.

The NNUH has said the incident is being investigated, with the family set to submit their concerns in writing.

However, Mr Palmer said that at no point were the family consulted about whether this was Mrs Palmer's wish or not.

Mr Palmer, 62, who along with 50-year-old husband Brian O'Connell provides full-time care for his mother at their home in Calvert Street in the city centre, says he is certain she would not have requested this herself.

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He said: "My mum is sometimes quite confused, but she absolutely loves life and we make sure she has a very high quality of living.

"During the lockdown she always wanted to go places but I had to explain to her that if we went out she was at risk of catching the virus, could end up in hospital and die. She always responded to that by saying 'I do not want to die - I want to live'.

"That to me is not an ambiguous response - I know she wants to live as long as possible."

Mr O'Connell, who gave up work running a day centre for people with dementia to care for Mrs Palmer, said he had difficulties communicating with the hospital while she was being treated.

When Mrs Palmer was originally admitted, the couple were unable to visit her having also both tested positive for the virus.

Mr O'Connell said: "We are realists and know she won't live forever, but surely Patrick should have been involved in the decision of whether or not she should be resuscitated?

Patrick Palmer with husband Brian O'Connell, mother Alma Palmer and Honey the dog

Patrick Palmer, left with husband Brian O'Connell, mother Alma Palmer and Honey the dog - Credit: Archant

"When she went to hospital we gave very specific information to the paramedics who took her about her needs, but it just seems these were lost.

"The nursing staff that look after her were really kind, but it really worries me that we were not consulted.

"We don't have problems with do not resuscitate instructions, we understand there are circumstances where it is the right thing to do, but families should be involved in these difficult conversations."

The couple only learned that the decision had been made at the end of Mrs Palmer's treatment when they were given her discharge papers.

Mr Palmer said: "There has to be consultation in this situation - this is the kind of thing we should have been talking about at the start of her treatment, not at the end."

The couple has since lodged a formal complaint with the hospital and contacted its Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).

A spokesperson for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said: “We are sorry to hear Mrs Palmer and her family’s concerns and wish her all the best with her ongoing recovery.

"We are investigating and will be responding to them directly to answer their questions.”

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital - Credit: Archant

The case echoes concerns raised nationally by the British Institute of Human Rights, which claims that DNAR orders for disabled and elderly patients were being issued at a higher rate during the pandemic.

According to the NHS's guidelines on these orders, patients and family should always know when this decision has been made.

It states: "You and the people important to you should know that a DNACPR form has been put in your medical records.

"The form says that if your heart or breathing stop, CPR should not be tried. This means medical staff will not try to restart your heart or breathing."