POLICE are ready to investigate a son’s claims doctors at the Western General Hospital attempted to “kill off” his elderly mother by withdrawing a feeding tube.
Peter Tulloch has alleged that he paid 83-year-old mother Jean a surprise visit at the hospital, where she had been admitted with a urinary tract infection, to find that her intravenous drip which provided her nutrition had been removed.
He says that he then learned that his mother, who was a resident at the Lennox House Care Home in Trinity, had been placed on the Liverpool Care Pathway – a set of guidelines designed to ensure no unnecessary treatment or tests are carried out on a patient in their final days or hours of life.
After he raised his concerns, he said his mother had the drip reinserted and survived for a further two weeks, but the incident has left Mr Tulloch convinced that medical staff had attempted to speed up his mother’s death to free up beds.
He has made a complaint to Bedfordshire Police – his home force – and says he believes doctors should be charged with attempted murder.
Lothian and Borders Police have not yet received the complaint but said they will carry out an investigation if necessary.
London Underground systems engineer Mr Tulloch, 55, said: “When I saw that the feeding tube had been removed, I was stunned. I believe they tried to kill her off and that pressure over beds was the main motive.
“They didn’t tell me anything. She was conscious, I don’t know if she was in discomfort but it was certainly a long time. She went for 30 hours without a drip.
“I didn’t know about the pathway at first, I only knew the drip had been taken out. After the visit I sent an e-mail to all sorts of people and only then was she taken off it [the pathway]. It was only once it became known that I was making a fuss.”
Mrs Tulloch was born in Dumfries before she moved to Edinburgh as a small child. She then moved to Whitehaven in Cumbria, before returning to the Capital as an 18-year-old where she trained as a nurse and became a familiar face in the New Town and Stockbridge areas.
She was referred to the Western on March 4, and within a week the urinary tract infection cleared up. But her family were then told that she was weeks away from dying.
Mr Tulloch says he visited his mother on March 13 and found that she was able to communicate through gestures and smile. He claims he was advised to go back home and that he would be notified if his mother’s condition deteriorated, but that when he made a surprise visit the following day he noticed the drip was gone.
It is understood that Mr Tulloch made an official complaint to NHS Lothian before writing to police.
Sarah Wilkinson, media officer for Bedfordshire Police, said: “If there is an investigation, it would have to be carried out by the home force where the incident took place. We have received a letter from this gentleman and we will decide which agency to refer that to.”
A Lothian and Borders Police spokesman said that the force would “robustly investigate any information we receive relating to criminal activity within our force area”.
The health board said that it had not had any contact from either force and was not aware of any police investigation.
Melanie Hornett, NHS Lothian’s nurse director, said: “I would like to express my condolences to the family. We are unable to comment on individual cases, but NHS Lothian takes all complaints seriously and fully investigates each one. If a complainant is not happy with our response, we ask that they discuss this further with us.
“We follow national published guidelines in the relation to the Liverpool Care Pathway.”
Controversial pathway to limit suffering
The Liverpool Care Pathway is designed to increase quality of life for patients who are in their final days or hours.
Those who are dying can be denied artificially-provided nutrition, typically if heavily sedated, or denied treatments that could prolong their life.
Tests that are deemed unnecessary will not be given to patients under the pathway, which was developed by the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and Liverpool’s Marie Curie hospice in the late 1990s.
The pathway has been recognised nationally and internationally and recommended as a model of good practice.
However, its use has proved controversial, with some claiming it amounts to euthanasia and has be implemented as a means of freeing up beds. On average, a patient on the pathway dies after 33 hours.