Death of 90-year-old sparked police care home probe

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The death of an elderly woman which sparked an investigation of a Burnley care home was one of natural causes, an inquest has found.

Mrs Ethel Atkinson (90) was taken to the Royal Blackburn Hospital from Palatine Lodge Care Home in June, 2012, and police called following concerns over her welfare.

The remaining six residents were removed as a “precaution” from the privately-run home by Lancashire County Council.

The home, which cared for people with mental health disorders, has since closed.

But an inquest at Burnley Town Hall, which was due to be held over three days and hear evidence from various witnesses, lasted just 20 minutes when East Lancashire Coroner Mr Richard Taylor recorded a conclusion of natural causes.

The hearing had originally been adjourned to allow for an investigation into the care home and Mrs Atkinson’s death.

The inquest heard that Dr Antonio Retimal, who was called to see Mrs Atkinson at the home, was “very unimpressed” by her condition and insisted that she be taken to hospital.

He believed she had a treatable condition, and she was then taken to the Royal Blackburn Hospital, where she died on June 4th.

Mr Taylor read evidence from the post-mortem examination, conducted by Home Office pathologist Dr Charles Wilson, which found that Mrs Atkinson died from an infarction of the bowel, caused by sigmoid colon volvulus.

Dr Wilson indicated that surgery to treat the condition would not have been practical given Mrs Atkinson’s age and condition.

Mr Taylor said: “Technically, this was a treatable condition, but in reality, due to Mrs Atkinson’s dementia and age, it was not. She had also expressed her hatred of hospitals and her desire to die at the home.

“I have heard submissions from representatives of the care home and from the person with power of attorney relating to Mrs Atkinson.

“Given the cause of death, there was only one conclusion I could have reached, and so it was not in anyone’s best interest or cost-effective to call the witnesses.

“There is no evidence to suggest circumstances would change the natural cause of death into an unnatural one.”