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Top academic blasts “appalling” care of 92-year-old father at Highland hospital

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A top academic has accused a Highland hospital of failing his father in the days before his painful death.

Economist Professor Ronald MacDonald opened his heart to speak publicly for the first time about the “appalling” treatment given to his 92-year-old father Duncan in his final hours.

He accused those treating the pensioner of being ageist and claimed he was not given the care he required because he was old.

He revealed that for six years his family had been seeking answers over the death at Skye’s Broadford Hospital – and have now reached an out-of-court settlement with NHS Highland.

The former Adam Smith chair of political economy at Glasgow University believes the case underlines why a controversial shake-up of hospital services on the island should be abandoned.

An NHS Highland spokesman last night issued an apology to the family for the failures.

Skye-based Professor MacDonald’s father, a retired engineer from the island, was admitted to Broadford Hospital with severe constipation on May 31, 2010.

He was given a powerful laxative and was later sick, before he died on June 4.

In 2013 an investigation by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) ruled there had been “several clinical management failings” in the 36 hours after Mr MacDonald started being sick, including “inadequate medical assessment, investigation and management”.

Decisions over the level of care required in the period had been “substandard”, and the first documented review of his changing condition was made the following day, after his son had highlighted his deterioration to staff.

The family had also complained about poor communication relating to the seriousness of his condition, and a “Do Not Attempt Resuscitation” decision, which they said had been taken without consultation.

The SPSO watchdog upheld the family’s complaints and made 10 recommendations for change at the health board.

The findings were made public at the time but the identities of those involved were not.

Revealing his family’s involvement for the first time last night, Prof MacDonald told the Press and Journal that he had subsequently launched legal action against the health board.

He said the family had now settled out of court with NHS Highland for a five-figure sum – but that health chiefs still had questions to answer.

“My father was 92 and he was frail but he entered the hospital in good health apart from the constipation,” he said.

“It was just appalling. There was a failure to care for him.

“All of the basic warning systems on his chart indicated that something had to be done, but they didn’t do it.

“It remains unclear to me how a group of medical personnel failed to intervene in a case like this or even inform the relatives.

“I’ve decided to go public because I still have unanswered questions.

“I’ve decided to go public for the wider good of this community, to see if anything positive can come out of it, if anyone else’s life could be saved by learning the lessons.”

The allegations about his father’s treatment emerged during the ongoing controversy on Skye over the future of hospital treatment.

Broadford was chosen in 2014 as the location for the main “hub” hospital on the island, with Portree to host a smaller “spoke” health centre.

The move provoked a furious reaction from islanders and the formation of a group in north Skye to campaign against the downgrading of facilities in Portree.

Prof MacDonald, who had alerted medical staff to the deterioration in his father’s condition before he died, believes the case underlines why the shake-up should not proceed.

“There’s an extreme lack of accountability if you are locating the main hospital a significant distance away from the main population centre,” he said.

“It’s very difficult for people in Portree, the main population centre, to visit.”

A health board spokesman said: “NHS Highland has apologised to the family for the way we handled this matter, and would again like to sincerely apologise for the failures identified.

“We have reviewed the findings and recommendations within the report which have been shared with the professionals involved. We have also reviewed current practices.”

He added: “NHS Highland values the input of families and carers and will continue to ensure that opportunities for discussion with the healthcare team are created.

“Wherever we site hospitals, there are people who have to travel to visit and this is taken into account by clinical staff.”