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Hospital Mixup Leads Daughter To Think Her Mum Was Dying When She Wasn't

A woman has been left distraught after an alleged hospital bungle saw her told to "make arrangements" for her mum's looming death, but then told the next day she would be discharged.

Eleanor Franks claims a doctor at the Royal Adelaide Hospital told her that her 75-year-old mother, Margaret, was being placed into "end-of-life care" and was likely to pass away shortly.

After telling her mum's elderly siblings their sister would soon die, Eleanor claims a different doctor the very next day said Margaret was on the mend and would be soon discharged into a nursing home.

Two days after that, Eleanor said a different doctor again said Margaret would be discharged to her home, where she lives alone.

Stock photo: Getty

"I still don't have a clear picture of mum's prognosis," Eleanor told 10 daily more than a week after first being told her mum was near death.

I have been told four different stories, I have no idea what's going on.

Royal Adelaide Hospital apologised in a statement, saying it "did not clearly communicate" the details around Margaret's care.

Margaret first entered hospital three weeks ago, after an infection -- from a cat bite -- spread to her blood. Eleanor said she underwent surgery and was in the RAH's intensive care unit for a fortnight.

Margaret already battled several serious conditions including pulmonary disease, a heart condition and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, which is currently in remission thanks to intensive treatment.

Eleanor said doctors initially stressed the seriousness of her mum's latest infection, saying she may struggle to survive. But after two weeks of treatment, Margaret was on the mend. Eleanor visited her mum every other day in hospital, and popped in last Friday to see her.

Eleanor's mother has been in Royal Adelaide Hospital for a few weeks. Photo: AAP

"I saw a new doctor I hadn't seen before, who told me mum was very ill, her lung function had gone down to 30 percent, she was likely to pass away, and the hospital had instituted end-of-life care," Eleanor said.

Eleanor said the doctor said "you need to make arrangements, or words to that effect. I took that to mean organising funerals and informing my family."

"I was a little surprised it had happened but I just relied on what she said... I thought I would have to do mum's end of life plan, and tell my family."

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says palliative care and end-of-life care are often used "interchangeably" but refer to different concepts.

"End-of-life care typically refers to the 12 months prior to death, in contrast to palliative care which typically cares specifically tailored to assist with the effects of life-limiting illnesses," the AIHW says on its website.

Stock photo: Getty

Eleanor told her family about her mum's health update, including her elderly siblings.

"I spoke to my partner’s father who is a GP, and asked what it means when your lung function is 30 percent. He said 'you've got days to live.' I rang mum's sisters and brother. My uncle burst into tears, he was absolutely devastated," Eleanor said.

"Mum has been ill for some time, we’ve known she is compromised, but she's young. She only turns 76 in September."

The next day, Saturday, Eleanor called the hospital. A nurse said Margaret was getting a transfusion -- which further confused Eleanor, under the impression her mum would not be receiving further treatment like this.

Photo: AAP

"The nurse said 'what are you talking about, of course we’re still treating her'," Eleanor recounted.

"I asked to speak to a doctor, there wasn't one available, but the nurse said to call on Monday. The nurse said mum was getting better and will be discharged soon, but into a nursing home."

I was so confused.

Eleanor said it wasn't until Monday night a doctor called back, telling a different story again -- that Margaret would be discharged, and was well enough to go back to her home, where she lives alone.

"The doctor said 'I don't know what you were told but that's not true [about end-of-life care], we’re going to discharge her next week and she can go home. I said 'are you insane? She can't move without help'."

"I was absolutely devastated, furious, upset, all at once, all these emotions going through me."

Stock photo: Getty

A Tuesday call to the hospital complaints line was a further cause of upset for Eleanor, who claimed the phone operator dismissed the situation as "obviously just a miscommunication".

In a later callback, a senior medical coordinator reiterated Margaret would soon be sent home.

She has since filed an official complaint and is considering legal action.

10 daily sent a detailed list of questions to SA Health about the care Margaret received, and the series of events as outlined by Eleanor.

The department did not answer specific questions, instead supplying a general statement on behalf of the hospital.

Photo: AAP

"We apologise that we did not clearly communicate the benefits of early palliative care support for patients with chronic disease to improve their quality of life," a Royal Adelaide Hospital spokesperson told 10 daily.

"We are continuing to review our processes for patients, families or carers to ensure they can appropriately raise and escalate concerns they may have about their loved ones’ conditions."

Contact the author jobutler@networkten.com.au