Doctors put us under DNR orders without permission

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Jon Marsh was helping his elderly mother recover from a bout of ill health when he found the document that made his stomach turn.

Hospital records showed that pensioner Diana Marsh had been placed under a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in hospital without her family being informed.

This meant that medics would not attempt CPR to save her life if the 85-year-old stopped breathing or her heart failed.  

“I was sick to the bottom of my stomach when I read that form,” Jon, 49, from Maldon, Essex, tells Sun Online in an exclusive interview.

“The hospital didn’t mean to give it to us, it was sent in her paperwork accidentally.

“And they had not contacted a single family member. I called the doctor afterwards and said, ‘What is going on here? You can’t just put a DNR on my mum. This is illegal.’

“The doctor told me mum had agreed to it. But I had spoken to her on the phone on the same day they issued the order and there is no way she was capable of giving her consent.

“She thought she was in Majorca and Judy Garland was her nurse. The doctors insist she was lucid and agreed. I told them, ‘If she agreed, why didn’t she sign anything?’”

Jon’s interview comes after huge concerns were raised about the use of DNARs  – also known as DNRs and DNACPRs – during the pandemic .

There are fears that patients in hospital wards and residents in care homes have been placed under illegal, blanket orders without being consulted as the health service buckles under the strain.

Campaigners claim doctors have been playing God with the elderly and disabled condemned to die the moment they take a turn for the worse.

And the use of blanket DNAR orders is now being investigated by the Care Quality Commission after a raft of complaints by NHS whistleblowers and members of the public.

Jon’s mother was admitted to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, with a hernia in July and developed a chest infection and Urinary Tract Infection that made her confused during her eight-week stay.

She is now recovering but her son is worried the DNR order is still in place despite his demand that it be torn up.

The health care support worker added: “They are doing this to so many people it’s unbelievable.

“It seems to me they’re using Covid as an excuse for handing out DNRs like chocolates at Christmas. While I’m not a conspiracy theorist it’s almost like, ‘Hey, let’s kill all the old people.’”

‘Heartbroken’ at dad’s lonely death

Retired mum-of-two Jacqui Miller is one of those to make a complaint to the Care Quality Commission.

Her dad Joseph Riley was suffering from a urine infection and had a DNR order placed on his hospital bed whilst being treated for Covid-19 in March, which he is believed to have caught in hospital.

Remarkably Joseph, 93, survived the virus but it made him so weak he was admitted to Cedars nursing home in Redditch, Worcestershire, in April.

In June he had to be rushed back to hospital and sadly he died from heart failure just hours after being admitted and before his family could be at his side.

“We didn’t know dad had been put under a DNR when we sent for his records in July,” said Jacqui, 68, from Stourport-on-Seven, Worcestershire. “We knew dad hadn’t been right for days.

He was pale and unresponsive and could hardly move.

“We kept asking the staff at the care home to do something but they kept telling us, ‘He’s fine.’

“After he died we found out he had pneumonia and his lungs were filled with yellow puss.

“He had been shut in his room on the hottest day of the year before he was taken to hospital and no-one from the care home called us to let us know he was sick.

“It’s unacceptable and we think the DNR played a role in his death.

‘Their attitude was, ‘He’s an old man and is going to die so we don’t need to do anything.’

“But no one should have to die alone. We are heartbroken.”

However, a spokesperson for Cedars nursing home said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Riley’s family at what we understand is a difficult time.

“The Care Quality Commission has fully investigated the circumstances surrounding his death, and the coroner raised no concerns against the home.

“We are confident that the home is a safe and caring environment for all our residents.”

‘Hard to get my head around’

Cancer survivor Michael Ellison, 66, is another to speak out.

He was battling a twisted bowel when he was diagnosed with coronavirus and had a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ sign slapped on his hospital bed at the start of the pandemic.

Staff at Royal Liverpool hospital were so convinced he was going to die that they called his family to say that he was unlikely to make it through the night.

But in May, after a seven-week hospital stay, the dad-of-six was well enough to head back home following what doctors called a miraculous recovery.

In October, he told The Daily Star: “Just the idea that they put a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ on my bed when I was only 65, is hard to get my head around.”

While health professionals DO NOT need consent to impose a DNR, the orders do need to be assessed on an individual basis and discussed with a patient or their family to be lawful.

And they can only be justified if a person is so frail or sick that attempting CPR – which can result in broken ribs and internal bleeding – will do more harm than good.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said in October: “The Department is very clear that the blanket use of DNR is unacceptable.

“An agreement to a DNR is an individual decision and should involve the person concerned or, where the person lacks capacity, their family, carer, guardian or any other legally recognised advocate.”

‘Sad and distressing’

Davina Hehir, the Director of Policy and Legal Strategy at the campaign organisation Compassion in Dying, says the number of calls they have received about DNARs have doubled since the pandemic started.

Davina said: “I am aware of a couple of cases where the person has had a phone call or letter saying their loved one will not be resuscitated if they get coronavirus.

“Some care homes seem to think they need to have a DNAR in place for everyone that might get Covid-19, but that is not the case.

“It does make sense to plan ahead but it seems that sometimes there has been a rush to do that and that has resulted in blanket orders.  

“It’s sad and distressing and these examples are causing a lot of anxiety.

“We’ve supported over 5,000 people since the pandemic started and I would say around 15 per cent of our calls are around resuscitation.”

Lawyer Merry Varney is part of the human rights team at the Leigh Day legal firm that has fought numerous DNAR-related cases.

She said: “At the start of the pandemic there was story after story of blanket DNRs – it was horrific.

“People were reporting finding them in their relative’s notes after they had died.

“Care homes were making blanket decisions not to take residents to hospital if they got ill because they didn’t have a bed in intensive care available.

“I’ve seen ‘Downs Syndrome’ given as a reason for imposing a DNAR.

“There have been so many cases where the decision-making process that is required by law has clearly not been followed.

“I’ve spoken to people who say, ‘My 90-year-old relative doesn’t want this DNR, how do I get them to take it off?’

“The problem is that as a lay person, you’re not going to be easily able to challenge a DNAR.

“You have to get a medical professional to support you and you have to fund it – and that’s not cheap.

“The government needs to get on top of this issue or so many more people are going to be condemned by awful, sweeping judgements by healthcare professionals.”



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