NHS admits ‘human error’ led to pensioner choking to death in hospital

The son of a woman who tragically choked to death after being given a hospital steak pie by mistake has spoken out after the NHS admitted “human error” led to the pensioner’s death.


The tragic incident occurred when 87-year-old Iris was served chunks of meat in a steak pie at Ayrshire Central Hospital, despite being flagged as a ‘high risk of choking’ and being on a liquidised diet.


Pensioner choking to death


Mrs. McNaught was initially a resident at Moorburn Manor Nursing Home in Largs but was admitted to ward three of the Irvine hospital on June 25 to undergo a dementia assessment.

However, although staff were alerted that Mrs. McNaught “required a modified diet of soft food which had been liquidised,” on July 14  she was served a meal of steak and mushroom pie with mashed potatoes and carrots on a ‘special red tray’, which merely indicated she had specific dietary requirements.

The court heard how the alarm was raised when nursing staff noticed the grandmother behaving oddly and ‘moving items around the table’.

At first, staff went to check on her and then realised she was choking.


“The nurse immediately started to administer back slaps in an attempt to dislodge the food.

“This was unsuccessful so she then performed the Heimlich Manoeuvre and was successful in dislodging a small piece of food,” the court heard.


But despite the attempts, Mrs. McNaught is said to have gone ‘limp’ and lost consciousness.

When paramedics arrived, a suction device was used to clear her airways, but this failed to dislodge any more food.

The elderly woman then suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

During the hearing, NHS Ayrshire and Arran admitted guilt and said Mrs. McNaught’s death was “a matter of great contrition and regret,” adding: “This incident is all the more tragic because the hospital had identified the potential risk of choking.”

But NHS chiefs said while all procedures had been taken, ultimately “human error” had led to the food being served to the elderly lady and accepted “the responsibility of that lies with the Board.”


Concluding, Sheriff Nicola Patrick said: 

“Nothing I can say in this case nor any sentence the court can pass can reflect the consequences of the failure in this case.  

“I wish to state that the sentence I am passing in this case is in no way reflective of the tragic outcome or the loss sustained by the family and loved ones impacted by this and I once again extend sincere condolences to those affected.

“The organisation has accepted full responsibility for this and has pled guilty, avoiding the need for a complex and lengthy trial.”


Dr Crawford McGuffie, Medical Director of NHS Ayrshire and Arran said:

“On behalf of NHS Ayrshire and Arran, I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Mrs Iris McNaught. Our thoughts and sympathies are with her family, friends and all those affected.”


Medical negligence claims

Medical negligence is when a healthcare professional fails to provide a patient with adequate and appropriate care, leading to avoidable harm. 

For a claimant to succeed in a negligence claim, three conditions must be met: 

  1. Claimant is owed a duty of care by the defendant
  2. That defendant breached that duty by failing to exercise reasonable care
  3. The breach of duty caused the claimant’s injuries, and those injuries are not too remote.


Medical negligence in hospitals

The hospital should be a place where harm is treated. However unfortunately, the hospital is often the place where harm occurs.

Negligent treatment at a hospital can include but is not limited to an individual experiencing:

  • A delay and/or failure in diagnosis and/or treatment
  • A misdiagnosis
  • Incorrect treatment
  • Hospital-acquired infections including MRSA
  • Pressure sores
  • Mistakes during surgery
  • Consent
  • A delay and/or failure in receiving follow-up care.

We often see A&E departments acting negligently in hospitals by providing substandard care.


Who can make a medical negligence claim?

The victim of the negligence can bring about a claim in their own right. However, it is often sadly the case that the victim is either unable to bring about a claim or has sadly passed away.

In such circumstances, a claim can be brought about on their behalf either by an appropriate person or friend if the victim is still with us, or by the executor of the estate of a surviving dependent if the victim has passed.

Our specialist team will be able to discuss whether you have a right to bring about a claim – so if you or a loved one has been affected, do not hesitate to contact us.


How long do I have to make a medical negligence claim?

Claims of this nature are subject to a three-year limitation period. This means claims must be commenced within the Courts within three years of either the date the negligent act occurred or the date you became aware that negligence had occurred.

In cases involving deceased victims, this limitation period commences from the date of death and in cases involving minors, the limitation period starts when they reach their 18th birthday.

The law surrounding limitation periods is complex – our specialist team will be able to advise further.


How much compensation will I get?

It is often difficult to value Negligence claims at their outset, given the complexities involved however we will pursue two forms of compensation for you:

  • General damages – An award of money for the pain and suffering you have endured as a result of the negligence.
  • Special damages – An award for all of your out-of-pocket expenses such as travel expenses, medication costs, loss of earnings, and treatment costs both past and future.

This list is not exhaustive and is very case-specific. Our specialist team will be able to advise further.


Further reading

A guide to Scottish Clinical Negligence claims – Oakwood Scotland Solicitors

Clinical Negligence – Oakwood Scotland Solicitors



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