TWO daughters were left traumatised after blundering hospital staff told them their dad had died – only to reveal an hour later that they had “mixed up” patients and he was actually still alive.
When Leanne Stewart phoned the Royal Infirmary from Australia to ask about dad David Stewart, of Bonnyrigg, she was told he was dying and given the opportunity to say her tearful goodbyes down the phone.
She begged with the man she thought was her dad not to die – but was told that the 65-year-old had passed away as she was speaking to him.
Leanne, 33, then made a midnight call to her sister Kirsty to break the news of their father’s “shock death”.
But hospital staff phoned the family back an hour later to say they had made a “terrible mistake” and Leanne had actually been speaking to another dying man with a similar name – and that her dad was alive, sleeping in another bed and making a good recovery from the stroke he had suffered.
The error has left the family in shock and Kirsty, 30, seeking medical treatment after she had nightmares following news of her dad’s “death”.
Kirsty, also of Bonnyrigg, said: “Leanne said her goodbyes down the phone to someone as they lost him. She phoned me and asked me to phone the hospital just to make sure. I was told the same thing and they asked whether I could go in to pick up the death certificate.
“I was in disbelief – I had seen him at 8pm. He wasn’t great then but was conscious and chatty so I couldn’t understand it. But they mentioned an irregular heartbeat, which I knew he was experiencing, so that made me believe it was him.
“I got back on the phone to my mum in England and my sister in Australia. They were trying to book flights back and I was trying to plan everything. Then an hour later we got a call saying there had been a mistake.”
Kirsty said the family were initially so happy David was alive, they were willing to put the blunder down to an honest mistake – especially after they received a heartfelt apology from the nurse responsible. But other concerns about her father’s care provoked her to speak out.
She says there was more poor communication about her father’s condition, his dignity was compromised after he was left exposed to other patients, he had been allowed to lie in his own vomit and he had fallen and banged his head after he tried to reach for a buzzer placed out of reach.
David was admitted on October 24 and the family was told he had died the next night. But he was transferred from the Royal Infirmary to Astley Ainslie Hospital on Thursday, where he is making steady progress.
“After everything we had been through it’s been completely unacceptable,” Kirsty added. “If they’d just asked for a date of birth the mistake would never have happened. My sister is still trying to come home from Australia to see dad for her own peace of mind.”
David’s ex-wife, Eleanor Stewart, received a frantic phone call from Kirsty to say David had died. Eleanor, 64, who remains close to her ex-husband, was visiting her brother in England and immediately booked a flight back to Scotland – the cost of which has not yet been reimbursed by NHS Lothian.
She said: “We were trying to get flights and I was worrying, thinking about arranging the funeral. I was trying to keep it together for my daughters. The two of them were traumatised. Then they phoned back saying sorry and that it had been a mistake.
“They said it was a coincidence because the men had similar names. The guy who made the mistake was so upset and couldn’t apologise enough, but it was a mistake that should never have happened. It was just terrible.
“Kirsty has had to go to the doctors because she’s been getting nightmares. It’s been so distressing.”
Melanie Hornett, NHS Lothian’s nurse director, said: “The incident has been investigated and recorded. It was a case of human error and a mix-up between two patients of a similar name. As soon as the incident was identified, we informed the family, explained the circumstances and apologised.
“We worked with the family to address and resolve any concerns they had during the patient’s stay and we were not told of any other outstanding issues. We would urge the family to contact us so that we may discuss them.”