'My brother's brain injury was ignored because of dementia'

By Philippa Roxby
Health reporter, BBC News

image copyrightGeorge and Lilian Blewett
image captionBefore the accident, Philip was an active person, living independently and enjoying life, his family says

The family of a man with mild dementia who was seriously injured in a road traffic accident says people living with the condition are being let down badly and not given the urgent medical care they need.

Philip Blewett was diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease in 2013 at the age of 64.

George, his older brother, says he was living a very full life - "you would hardly have known about the diagnosis".

Philip was living on his own, happily managing his own affairs. He also enjoyed travelling to Upton Park to watch his beloved West Ham play football and was in regular contact with his family.

At the same time he was voluntarily attending a memory clinic and taking medication to control his condition.

When he was hit by a delivery van while crossing a busy road in east London in April 2014, Philip was rushed to hospital with serious injuries, including severe head trauma, broken ribs, a broken vertebra and cuts.

Written off

A CT scan showed he had suffered a 'severe traumatic brain injury' but instead of receiving urgent treatment in a neurological ward, which was recommended at the time, he was later transferred to an assessment ward for dementia patients where his condition deteriorated rapidly.

His family believe he was 'written off' as a dementia patient, which meant he wasn't given the rehabilitation treatment he needed to recover from his brain injuries.

George explained: "If he'd been treated early for his brain injury, everything would have been so different.

"He was let down badly."

His family became increasingly concerned by the care he was receiving.

Early on, Philip wandered out of the general hospital in his dressing gown and found his way home. Thanks to the actions of his window cleaner he was safely returned to hospital, but the family were unaware of the incident until they bumped into the window cleaner several weeks later.

When he was moved to the dementia assessment ward, Philip's physical and mental condition worsened - he started having seizures, his behaviour became erratic and confused and he lost a lot of weight. On two occasions he was treated for severe dehydration.

image copyrightGeorge and Lilian Blewett
image captionPhilip Blewett was carrying a dementia card when he was hit by a van when crossing a road in east London

By this time his family were frustrated and distressed by the complete lack of neurological assessments or rehabilitation, despite the diagnosis of a serious brain injury.

After getting law firm Fieldfisher on board, Philip's family were finally able to fund his move to a medical centre for neuro-rehabilitation, but the delay meant the opportunity for recovery had already been missed and Philip died earlier this year, unable to walk or talk.

Lilian Blewett, Philip's sister-in-law, said he - and the family - went through two years of torment.

She said the family was determined to confront the injustice of Philip's treatment.

"He was discriminated against because he was responsible enough to be holding a dementia card in his wallet after he was diagnosed with slight memory issues.

"But the card actually hindered him. They dismissed him and didn't take his care seriously.

"It was just tunnel vision - they looked at his dementia and didn't look at anything else," she says.

"It took a long time for people to recognise he had a severe traumatic brain injury."

Quick to blame

And she says it wasn't just the NHS which was slow to respond to the family's requests for information after the road accident.

The police have since apologised to the family for not investigating the road traffic incident properly or prosecuting the van driver involved.

The family believe the police simply jumped to the conclusion that Philip was to blame for the incident.

With legal help, the family eventually received compensation from the driver's insurers which helped to pay for Philip's care.

The NHS trusts which treated him investigated his care after the family complained. In their response, East London NHS Foundation Trust said that although Mr Blewett's Alzheimer's was mild, doctors were of the opinion that it would reduce the chances of a full recovery from his brain injury.

A spokesman for the Trust said: "We recognise that this would have been a very difficult and challenging time for the Blewett family.

"A complaint was submitted on behalf of Philip Blewett which the Trust responded to in July 2015. The Trust takes all complaints seriously and consequently undertook a thorough investigation into the issues raised. The findings of the investigation were shared with the family."

Dr Dominic Heaney, consultant neurologist at UCL Hospital Trust, who gave his expert opinion on the case, said: "In contrast to most patients' recovery following a traumatic brain injury, Philip's condition did not improve and instead, over the following weeks it deteriorated progressively, rapidly and relentlessly."

'Life-changing consequences'

Jill Greenfield, lawyer for the family at Fieldfisher, said Philip's family was not listened to.

"Time needs to be taken to look through patient records, to look at the whole person and to listen to the family. It's so easy for quick assumptions to be made."

A recent report from the Alzheimer's Society found that too many people with dementia were receiving unacceptable care while in hospital.

Kathryn Smith, director of operations at the Society said: "Among some clinicians, there seems to be a lingering perception that people with dementia can't be rehabilitated. The upshot of this is that their other medical conditions are not treated with the same urgency.

"Good dementia care should never be a gamble, yet time and again we hear of people with dementia seemingly being deprioritised."

She added: "Poor care can have devastating, life-changing consequences. For people with dementia in hospital, it can mean the difference between returning to your own home or never going home at all."

Both George and Lilian Blewett believe there is a complete lack of understanding about dementia by people in authority in the NHS.

"He was put in the wrong place; he didn't see the right people and he didn't receive the right help.

"If we can't speak up for him, who is going to?" says Lilian.

The BBC is focusing on dementia throughout the month of May with content on TV, radio and online. Find out more here.

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