‘Do not resuscitate’ notice violated human rights, court says

Government and health authorities accused of failing to tackle confusion over issue

Janet Tracey: had a “do not resuscitate” notice placed on her records at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Photo credit should read: Family handout/PA Wire

Janet Tracey: had a “do not resuscitate” notice placed on her records at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Photo credit should read: Family handout/PA Wire

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 01:00

The widower of a terminally ill hospital patient has won a landmark ruling that her human rights were violated because she was not consulted before a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) notice was placed on her records.

The UK court of appeal was asked to intervene by David Tracey, who said his wife, Janet (63), was subjected to an unlawful DNR notice at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge.

Such notices are intended to ensure that a patient dies in a dignified and peaceful manner, but they have become the subject of controversy.

Widespread confusion

The British government and health chiefs were accused in court of failing to tackle widespread confusion and uncertainty over the imposition of notices on seriously ill patients.

Ms Tracey, a care home manager, died following a transfer to Addenbrooke’s after breaking her neck in a car crash on February 19th, 2011 – two weeks after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Lord Dyson, who sat with Lord Justice Longmore and Lord Justice Ryder, said the hospital trust violated Ms Tracey’s right to respect for her private life under article eight of the European Convention of Human Rights because it did not involve her before issuing the original DNR notice on February 27th, 2011. The judges unanimously agreed that patients should be “consulted and involved in the decision-making process” – unless a clinician considers consultation is likely to cause the patient physical or psychological harm. They cautioned against not involving patients just because they were distressed.

The judges rejected complaints that the health secretary infringed Ms Tracey’s rights in her last days by failing to promulgate appropriate guidance on DNR notices.

Lord Dyson described how one of Ms Tracey’s daughters, Alison Noeland, was “horrified” and registered her objections when she discovered the first notice had been issued, and it was removed and cancelled on March 2nd, 2011.

Three days later it was agreed with members of the family that a second notice should be placed on Ms Tracey’s notes. She died soon after at 10.38am on March 7th.

A spokesman for Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “The trust is considering the implications of this judgment and the next steps very carefully.”

An emotional Mr Tracey (66), a retired engineer who launched his claim to put right “a wrong done to Janet”, said outside court that the ruling was “a good result”. – (PA)