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Patient died one hour after GP examined her

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: January 19, 2013

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A 61-YEAR-OLD woman was found dead on her sofa barely an hour after being examined at home by a GP, an inquest has heard.

Suzanne Astle’s body was discovered by ambulance crew at her Richmond Street terrace, in Burton, after being alerted by the family doctor, Eileen Gunstone.

South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh was told the GP, who practises at Gordon Street Surgery, visited Mrs Astle on October 12 last year after morning surgery ended at 12.10pm.

The patient, who had not been to the doctor’s recently and was not given to complaining about her health, had contacted the surgery at 9.46am to request a home visit after experiencing severe stomach pain and vomiting.

In written evidence, Dr Gunstone said Mrs Astle was alert but suffering from a swollen and tender stomach which the GP suspected was due to a bowel obstruction or perforation.

Unable to ascertain details of any relatives, Dr Gunstone returned to the surgery to fax a letter about Mrs Astle’s condition to a hospital and to call an ambulance to take her there.

In another report, Lee Washington, general manager of the Staffordshire division for West Midlands Ambulance Service, said the call was received at 12.57pm requesting an ‘urgent’ referral, giving an ambulance two hours to attend.

He said the call was passed to a crew at 1.20pm who arrived at the patient’s home nine minutes later and found her dead at 1.32pm.

A police investigation ruled there were no suspicious circumstances.

Independent consultant pathologist Dr Peter Acland, who conducted a post-mortem examination on Mrs Astle’s body, found she died due to a perforated duodenal ulcer.

He said the condition was on a ‘similar scale’ to suffering a heart attack.

Mrs Astle’s family questioned why Dr Gunstone left the relative alone, why none of them was told about her condition, and queried the time taken for the ambulance to arrive.

But Mr Haigh ruled there had been no neglect, indicating Dr Gunstone acted as she thought appropriate in the circumstances, and that the ambulance arrived within the time required.

He recorded a verdict of death by natural causes while Mrs Astle waited by herself at home for an ambulance to arrive.

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