Tuesday, 2 February 2010

No time to say goodbye

Today’s Daily Mail carries a very sad story concerning the death of Lai-Mai Pang-Cheung, a 58-year-old grandmother who was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver just before Christmas.

Lai-Mai was rushed to King’s College Hospital, London, but her serious head injuries were so extensive doctors said she had no chance of recovery. Lai-Mai’s husband called the couple’s sons, who live in Hong Kong, and they immediately booked flights so they could be with their mother.

Unfortunately, according to Lai-Mai’s husband, the hospital insisted on switching off the ventilator and life-support system that was keeping Mai-Lai alive because of ‘tight resources’. The husband begged that Mai-Lai be kept alive until her sons could arrive the next day to say goodbye to their mother. Sadly, the hospital was apparently unable to accede to the request and Mai-Lai’s machinery was turned off only a matter of hours before her sons arrived to bid her farewell.

On the face of it, this sounds like a tragic story of a heartless hospital administration. However, having spent five days in intensive care myself last year, I know from my own family’s experiences that the nursing staff are highly skilled, dedicated and sensitive.

The report sounds uncharacteristically harsh and uncaring. But could it be true? I really hope not. However, if it does turn out to be the case, then reform of the way the NHS is both financed and managed must be the top priority for the next government.


  1. Sounds like the one sided story of a grieving husband who's looking for someone to blame for his wife's death.

    I think a quarry full of salt should be taken with this story.

  2. I think you could be right, Bob. I shall watch with interest to see what happens. I think we'll see an increase in these stories the closer we get to the election.

  3. I think it could be true but if it was my relative waiting for the ICU bed ? Resources are always at a premium and I know for a fact that where possible the NHS would do their very best to wait as long as possible but being denied specialised care could have resulted in more tragic deaths. I know nothing of this case but difficult and often painful decisions are made by the NHS every hour.

  4. I do feel sorry for the family. It is always a tragedy when someone dies without warning.
    However, as ICU beds are few and far between the resource has to be used best at all times. And, unfortunately, allowing someone to die for want of an ICU bed that is being blocked just to allow a family to say goodbye is not the best use of resources.

    I am sure that no clinician would make a decision like that without fully explaining the reasons to the next of kin. THis sort of clinical decision is always hard to make and hard for families to accept but it has to be done even if it makes a hospital or a clinician unpopular.

    A quarry of salt? Yes. I think so. But, if you are handing out salt, how about giving some to the council here as they don;t have enough to put on the roads!!

  5. Salt indeed. But how awful for those sons. And for all concerned.

  6. Jeez. Sounds like a nightmare, and I find it hard to imagine that a hospital would be quite so heartless as to suggest that life support machinery be switched off because of lack of resources.

    Still and all, hard for the sons to bear when they had raced half way round the world to be with her. I don't know how that feels and I can only empathise.

    Heaven help us.

    (Hello again Mr XTM. Been dealing with tiresome things like life so haven't been keeping up. How's the old leg? Are you striding around yet or taking it slowly and sensibly?) :-)

  7. Hi Sooz... The leg is being a beast. Very wobbly and really painful. Still not walking so very unhappy bunny. It's going to take a long, long time. Still not convinced that I will walk again. Only time will tell.

  8. If the sons had money to fly maybe they had money to tranfer the patient to a more accomodating medical centre. Life support systems are not rare or fearfully expensive.

  9. Anon 04:50 - hmmm. If someone I loved dearly was dying I would move heaven and earth to make sure I was on the next flight, even if I had to beg or borrow the money. Well, being absolutely broke I'd have to do that anyway.

    I see your point, although transfer would necessitate being on a life support system en route to the alternative medical centre. That might have made it less likely that she'd survive until her sons arrived.

    There again, we don't know the full facts, and we're all working on assumptions which may be wrong.