The NHS must condemn the death of a vulnerable patient who starved to death in hospital after 26 days without being properly fed, a charity said today.
The death of Martin Ryan, 43, who died after not being fitted with a feeding tube, is among six "premature" deaths of patients with learning difficulties which the charity Mencap said the NHS watchdog, the health service ombudsman, must condemn in a report later this month.
Ryan, who had Down's syndrome, was admitted to a hospital in Kingston-upon-Thames after suffering a stroke that made it difficult for him to swallow, but a "total breakdown in communication" between doctors and nurses meant he was never fitted with a feeding tube.
The other cases included that of Emma Kemp, 26, who had difficulty in communicating and was denied cancer treatment that could have saved her life. Doctors said they had been unable to treat her properly because she was unable to consent.
Mark Cannon, 30, died two months after being admitted to hospital with a broken leg. His father discovered that hospital staff had failed to give him replacement epilepsy medication during his initial operation.
The other deaths followed similar patterns of ignored warnings or problems missed until too late, mainly due to the patients having learning difficulties, Mencap said. Mark Goldring, the charity's chief executive, told the Daily Mail that the health service ombudsman's report "must condemn" the failings in the cases.
He said: "Our report exposed the horrific deaths of six people with a learning disability who died unnecessarily in NHS care. We have fought and will continue to fight for justice for their families.
"The ombudsman's reports must condemn the appalling failings of the NHS in these six cases. They need to make it impossible for people with a learning disability to continue to die unnecessarily. A failure to do this would be irrational and perverse.
"The reports have a duty to challenge complacency, where it has been shown to exist in the health service, when treating people with a learning disability."
The charity said the six cases demonstrated that there was institutional discrimination within the NHS against people with learning difficulties.
The ombudsman's office declined to comment before the publication of its report into the cases later this month.
The Guardian, 12th January 2009