Relatives of Saffron Walden man who died after rib fractures went undiagnosed vow to start campaign

Mr Sutcliffe was treated at Addenbrooke's Hospital

Mr Sutcliffe was treated at Addenbrooke's Hospital - Credit: Archant

Relatives of a Saffron Walden man who died from complications months after seven fractured ribs initially went undiagnosed have vowed to launch a campaign called “Moan to Save Your Life” in a bid to prevent future tragedies.

Former defence company board director George Sutcliffe, 82, cut his head and broke his ribs when he tripped and fell backwards down the up escalator at Tottenham Hale station in north London on October 9 last year.

He was taken to Homerton Hospital but not x-rayed and was told he could have a simple rib fracture. However, 48 hours later Mr Sutcliffe was rushed into Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge with a collapsed lung.

A scan then revealed that he had seven fractured ribs on his right side, two were shattered and one completely detached. He had difficulty breathing and a litre of blood was extracted from his lung.

Emergency doctors at both hospitals commented on his “amazing” tolerance to pain.

Over the next three months – described as “a nightmare” by his family – Mr Sutcliffe remained in hospital where his physical and mental condition deteriorated to such an extent that he was sent home to die on January 9 and finally died, aged 83, on January 22.

Chelmsford Coroner’s Court has now recorded a verdict that Mr Sutcliffe died as a result of an accident. The principal cause was pneumonia due to the lung injury caused by the rib fractures, said senior Essex coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray.

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Mr Sutcliffe, of Gallows Hill, Saffron Walden, was a widower and had no children. But three nieces and a nephew have now vowed to continue their fight to get questions answered.

Niece, journalist and BBC Radio 4 Food Programme presenter Sheila Dillon said after the hearing: “He was a stoic and didn’t complain. He said his chest hurt but because he was not moaning it was considered he couldn’t be in great pain. He was a Lancashire man who didn’t complain.”

The family want all hospitals to change their protocols so elderly people’s own subjective views of their pain don’t over-ride how their conditions are investigated.

Mrs Dillon, of Highbury, London, said: “We want to try and make sure no-one else will go through the nightmare that our uncle went through for three months. There could be hundreds of thousands of old people dying in similar ways.”

The campaign is likely to be called “Moan to Save Your Life”.

Relatives also raised questions about whether their uncle’s earlier discharge in October when he was still fit and alert, was delayed by teething problems with the introduction of Addenbrooke’s new computer system towards the end of October.

Mr Sutcliffe was a director of defence technology company Raytheon’s UK arm Cossor before he retired. He was responsible for contracts with governments and aeronautical companies. His wife Marita died in 2011. He was independent, active and on his way for a solo visit to Lancashire when the accident happened.

He was described as more like a 65-year-old than a man in his 80s but became “a thin old man” over his last three months.

Homerton’s Dr Paolo Perella told the inquest: “I have seen patients with one or two rib fractures who have been unable to move - rugby players with a high pain threshold - but Mr Sutcliffe was able to get himself off the bed and breathe fine. There was nothing to suggest he might be clinically seriously injured.”

Addenbrooke’s geriatric consultant Dr James Diver said the patient increasingly became unwell, both physically frail and in his mental ability. He was confused and delirious.

Dr Diver described it as “a tragic spiral”.