Sick babies left to die of dehydration, says doctor
Controversial NHS protocol for treatment of ailing children and cancer patients gets renewed scrutiny
- Hilary White, London
- United Kingdom
- December 3, 2012
Two stories appearing this week in the Daily Mail have shown that the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), a palliative care protocol adopted now in nearly all NHS hospitals, is being used to end the lives of sick babies and children and cancer patients who could benefit from treatment.
In one, a doctor has admitted starving and dehydrating 10 babies to death in a neonatal unit in a London hospital.
The Mail also reports on concerns from the Royal College of Physicians that doctors have prescribed the LCP for patients with cancer admitted to emergency rooms when they could benefit from further treatment.
In an article appearing in the British Medical Journal the anonymous physician wrote that parents often give permission to put their sick child on a recently revised version the LCP in hopes that there will be less suffering and no “visible changes” to their child while he dies.
“Survival is often much longer than most physicians think,” the physician wrote. In his experience, “the median time from withdrawal of hydration to death was 10 days” and even physicians are “unprepared for the sometimes severe changes that they will witness in the child’s physical appearance as severe dehydration ensues”.
He adds, “I know, as they cannot, the unique horror of witnessing a child become smaller and shrunken, as the only route out of a life that has become excruciating to the patient or to the parents who love their baby.”
While public suspicion is growing over misuse of the LCP, the Mail reports that its inventors, the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute in Liverpool, have moved forward and developed a version for sick children which includes “tick boxes” to be filled in by physicians or nurses to detail which treatments, including food and hydration, are being withdrawn.
The report by the Royal College of Physicians on the care of cancer patients admitted to emergency rooms, said doctors have been adopting a “nihilistic approach” to the care of cancer patients that has resulted in some not receiving proper care.
“There are concerns that sometimes an unnecessarily nihilistic approach to management may be adopted, particularly where the patient has evidence of secondary spread from the cancer and assumptions about futility of active treatment are made,” the report said.
It also warns that cancer patients are being put “at the back of the queue” four routine services like x-rays and antibiotics, and that in some cases physicians have failed to administer adequate pain medication.