Former senior Royal Preston Hospital nurse struck off after repeated lies about events before patient's death

A former Royal Preston Hospital ward manager has been struck off after lying about events leading up to the death of an 83-year-old dementia patient.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 8:30 pm

Deborah Ann Cook - a nurse since 1983 - repeatedly refused to provide a handover to incoming staff after completing an early shift on Ward 12 on December 2, 2016, claiming she had been extremely busy and was too tired. Medical notes for patients had also been mixed up and were inaccurate.

This meant that incoming staff were unaware that Peter Hunt, a retired caretaker from Kendal, was vulnerable.

Mr Hunt - who had not been seen by anyone six hours after arriving on the ward from the Emergency Department- took his belongings and left the hospital without notifying anyone. It was only after an hour that his vulnerability came to light and a search was initiated, but he was then involved in a road traffic accident and died from his injuries two days later.

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The Royal Preston Hospital

When a review was conducted by the hospital Mrs Cook lied that she had given a verbal handover to colleagues. She also suggested that she had written down the patient's details and passed them to a college when this was not correct.

She was dismissed from the hospital on March 14, 2017 following a disciplinary hearing.

In September 2018, at an inquest into Mr Hunt's death in 2018, she lied again when she suggested that she had tried to provide a handover to the nurse in charge but that it was the nurse that had refused to take the handover information.

She has since admitted this was not the case, and has reflected on her actions - though case officers said she "does not seem to acknowledge the seriousness of the failings nor is she able to provide reassurance that such conduct would never happen again".

In the report, Mrs Cook is quoted as saying: "I never left the ward before I ensured the patients who were to be discharged had their paperwork completed…it was out of character for me to leave the ward without giving a handover.

"I admit I didn’t handover the patient to the staff coming on duty…I did not act maliciously or in any was this deliberate and I fully regret my actions. I understand the seriousness of the regulatory concerns as outlined."

At the time, the Coroner's report concluded Mr Hunt's death "was contributed to by neglect in that the staff on the afternoon shift on Ward 12 at the Royal Preston Hospital were not aware of his presence on the ward. This was a direct result of the failure to provide a handover at the end of the morning shift and by a failure to risk assess him for enhanced care".

This week, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) struck Mrs Cook off the register for 18 months for her misconduct.

The NMC did not consider that Mrs Cook should be charged with causing or contributing to Mr Hunt's death.

NMC case officers said: "Mrs Cook was repeatedly dishonest, and by doing so attempted to cast blame on her nursing colleagues, and deceived the Court.

"Mrs Cook has provided no explanation for her actions and has not worked in a nursing capacity since her dismissal from the Trust. The panel determined that the reputation of the nursing profession would be damaged if she were permitted to practise unrestricted."

Given that Mrs Cook has not worked in a nursing capacity since her dismissal from the Trust, the NMC believe "there is a real risk that this misconduct will be repeated in the future".

A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said: “We would like to express our deepest condolences to Mr Hunt’s family.

"Both the Trust internal investigation and the external NMC investigation concluded that this was a tragic, isolated and avoidable incident due to the actions of an individual member of staff who failed to implement basic standards and processes in place at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.”