‘Catalogue of errors’ at hospital led to popular postman’s death

Hemel Hempstead postman Robert Wilton
Hemel Hempstead postman Robert Wilton

A well-known Hemel Hempstead postman’s life was tragically cut short after he was misdiagnosed with a chest infection by hospital medics.

Grandfather Robert Wilton, 61, was actually suffering from bronchial pneumonia and died six hours after arriving at Watford General Hospital in May last year.

An internal investigation by West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust has since revealed a catalogue of errors on that fateful night.

His devastated sister Judith Penrose, of Grovehill, said: “Everything they did was incorrect. They mis-recorded and they misdiagnosed.

“We stupidly put our trust in what they said was correct.”

Postie Robert, who lived in Gadebridge, would cycle from his home everyday to the Royal Mail depot in Maylands Avenue, before heading out on his rounds. He delivered to the town centre and Old Town areas and would cover up to 60 miles a week in the saddle.

Robert’s daughter Kelly called an ambulance late on May 23, because her father was suffering from breathing difficulties.

At the hospital medical staff failed to properly follow the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) - a national system used to determine how poorly a patient is, did not carry out key tests and transferred Robert out of resus to another ward when he was not well enough.

Two-and-a-half hours after his family were sent home from the hospital by nurses, they were called and told Robert’s condition had deteriorated. By the time the concerned family arrived back at the hospital he had suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

A subsequent serious incident report said: “The investigation concludes that this patient was transferred to AUU (acute admissions unit) when clinically unstable; the reasons for this are a combination of organisational pressures of access targets and lack of knowledge and skills in recognising and caring for a deteriorating patient. With the benefit of hindsight, all staff interviewed have said they would have acted differently, and have also acknowledged that this patient was too sick to be transferred.”

The trust has apologised to the family and a series of recommendations have been made following the investigation.

Judith said: “We have always been so close and his departure has absolutely destroyed me.

“He has four amazing young grandchildren who he will never see grow up and his two daughters are devastated.”

An external investigation is now underway, while the family are fighting for the medical staff involved, including the doctor in charge of Robert’s case, to be held accountable.

Judith said: “Their actions were absolutely inexcusable. I don’t know any other profession where the staff can constantly be recorded to make errors and not be held responsible for those errors.”

Medical director Dr Mike van der Watt said: “It is clear that Mr Wilton did not receive the high standard of safe and compassionate care we expect and I have sincerely apologised to the family for the distress this has caused them, and for the mistakes that were made.

“We have addressed the key issues that have come out of the investigation, including ensuring

that patients, particularly those who are very seriously ill, are properly assessed and monitored by our doctors so that any early warning signs that their condition is deteriorating are picked up immediately and appropriately managed, which did not happen in this case.

“I have reassured the family that all serious incidents of this nature are reviewed as part of an individual member of staff’s appraisal process, with extra training and supervision put in place if appropriate.”

The findings of the external review are expected at the end of the month.