Man gets brain damage from life support switch-off

BBC News - Tetraplegic man's life support 'turned off by mistake'

This story really did shock me — I didn’t mention this earlier today in case it upset friends of mine but someone else decided to tweet it out, so … there is footage of the nurse doing what caused the damage, which I couldn’t bring myself to watch at first (it’s actually a local news segment). This guy sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident in 2002, and since then had been a quadriplegic and had depended on a ventilator to breathe for him. If it gets switched off, you are likely to suffer brain damage or die, because your diaphragm is paralysed and you won’t be able to breathe. There’s a run-down here of what a person in that condition needs to stay alive, and that woman has back-up generators in case the mains goes off. Quite possibly, so did this guy.

This nurse, who for some reason had been employed without having been trained in caring for a ventilated patient, for some reason turned off the vent and, after the victim tried to alert her to the fact that he couldn’t breathe by clicking his tongue (because without the vent, he could not speak), tried to resuscitate him with an airbag respirator but had attached it in the wrong position. Paramedics finally did it correctly, but by then he had suffered terrible brain damage. He seems to be able to talk again, but as his sister says, his level of understanding is now the same as that of a young child:

“His life is completely changed. He doesn’t have a life now,” she said.

“He has an existence but it’s nowhere near what it was before. He is very brain damaged compared to what he was before. He was a highly intelligent man and you could have long in-depth conversations with him and now it tends to be more simplistic.”

The nurse was employed by a commercial contractor who apparently did not have adequate procedures for making sure the nurses were properly qualified for each individual patient. The patient, Jamie Merrett, had suspected that serious mistakes were being made in his care, so he set up a bedside camera, which is how the footage of this incident came to be made. This is, of course, what comes of farming out the care of seriously vulnerable patients to commercial organisations whose sole aim is to make money: the NHS abdicates the role of actually making sure the right people are being hired for the job. I think it’s a bit unfair to make a public example of the nurse who made the mistake, rather than the boss of this company; the fact is that this nurse should not have been employed to care for him in the first place, and it is the company’s responsibility to make sure that they employ correctly trained staff, and they clearly did not do that here, and their contract should be suspended immediately.

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