A ROW has erupted after care homes in north Essex were advised not to automatically dial 999 if a resident is dying.

A system exists, similar to that in hospitals, where the families, doctors or patients themselves in care homes can sign a declaration saying if a patient is dying they should not be resuscitated.

However, the Primary Care Trust in Colchester says all too frequently homes are still dialling 999 when this is the case, instead of letting people pass away peacefully.

But a national care home organisation, and the daughter of a care home resident, say staff are not qualified to make such decisions.

Rhonda Warren, 57, of Prince Phillip Road, Monkwick, has just placed her mother, who has dementia, on the do not resusitate plan called the Liverpool Care Pathway.

But she said she would be horrified if an ambulance was not called out by the care home if her mother suddently fell ill.

She said: “If my mum was in bed and had a heart attack, to be honest, I wouldn’t want her to be resusitated.

“But I would still want the home to call an ambulance to check if her condition was likely to be fatal and to ensure she was not suffering prolonged pain which could be relieved.

“I think it’s disgusting homes would be told not go through the proper channels, even for those patients who have signed up to this. The staff are not qualified to make that decision.

“They could make the wrong decision. It’s almost akin to euthanasia. The health trust is basically saying ‘they are old, let’s not bother with them’.”

Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, urged care homes to be cautious. He said: “If I see someone who is dying, I might not always know whether they are at the end of their life or if, at the right facility, their life could be saved.

“It places on care home staff a responsibility for making a judgment that should only be made by a doctor.

“If someone follows this guidance and someone doesn’t get the medical treatment they should have had, and someone is sued, will it be the health trust, the ambulance or the care home who is blamed? My guess is it would probably be the care home. If I was a care home manager, I would err on the side of caution.”

Dr Shane Gordon, who heads up the area’s GP consortia which is working with the primary care trust to develop the strategy for dying patients, said: “What we are talking about is people being able to die with dignity in the place they call home.

“One of the difficulties is these things happen in the small hours of the night when homes tend to be running on lower staff who have a tendency to call an ambulance. That leads to some people being admitted to hospital when they may have preferred to spend their last hours where they live.

“That’s why we need to work with the homes and managers.”