A SENIOR doctor has said the death of a knee replacement patient could have been avoided if weekend hospital staff had sufficient time to recognise she was seriously ill.

Consultant Nicholas London staff on the Wensleydale ward of Harrogate District Hospital was exceptionally busy on the weekend of November 20 and 21, 2012, and with the limited number of doctors available a detailed ward round would have been too time-consuming.

His comments at Gwendolyn Bingham’s Harrogate inquest follow NHS England announcing plans to ensure senior hospital doctors and key diagnostic tests are available seven days a week, amid concerns over high death rates of patients treated on Saturdays and Sundays.

Recent research has found 4,400 lives a year are lost in Britain because of inadequate staff cover.

The inquest heard keen bowls player Mrs Bingham was in good health, lived independently and was not expected to experience any complications from knee surgery on October 17 while recovering at the hospital, which serves an area stretching from York to Whitby to the Yorkshire Dales.

The following weekend, when 19 per cent of nursing staff were off sick, she was given medication for high blood pressure while experiencing low blood pressure, an error linked to her subsequent renal failure.

Mrs Bingham, who had eight grandchildren, was also given laxatives while suffering dehydration and did not receive all the antibiotics she was prescribed after the operation.

Mr London said the stress of the weekend could have caused the heart attack from which died on November 3.

He said: “I was aware in the preceding week or two about concerns that had been raised by our lead consultant about activity on that ward relating to staffing levels.

“If it had been recognised earlier how unwell she was, despite her seemingly well appearance over the weekend, there was a much greater possibility that her renal failure and subsequent events could have been reversed.”

The hearing was told no medical notes about Mrs Bingham, of Otley, near Harrogate, had been completed between lunchtime on the Saturday and lunchtime on Monday, October 22 and medics were not told about her rapid decline.

James Robottom, counsel for Mrs Bingham’s family said the verbal rather than written handover to the ward’s weekend team led to a “Chinese whispers situation, where people did not understand the instructions”.

Coroner Geoff Fell said staffing on the ward had since been increased.

Mrs Bingham’s daughter, Nicki Harrington, said: “I believe this was an avoidable, tragic event that should not have happened.”

The hearing continues.