Coventry mum who died of bacterial infection thought illness was 'just a winter bug'

A Coventry mum-of-three tragically died aged just 32 from natural causes, a coroner has concluded. Hannah Plumb died at University Hospital Coventry just weeks before Christmas in December 2022.

She was seriously unwell when she was admitted to hospital, an inquest heard today (25 April.) Her death was due to an “aggressive” bacterial infection which caused lung damage that she sadly could not recover from, area coroner Delroy Henry told the hearing.

But hospital staff did miss a medical problem which came up on two X-rays while she was in critical care, the meeting heard. The so-called “pneumothorax” affected one of her lungs and was “moderate,” said Dr Christopher Bassford.

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It was captured on two X-rays but was only spotted by a team from a different hospital more than 12 hours later. Giving evidence, Dr Bassford from the hospital trust said he did not believe this impacted the outcome of her death.

If the pneumothorax had been spotted earlier they would have put in a chest drain to deal with it, he said, but he did not believe it would have stopped her dying. He said its effects can mean higher pressures on a ventilator are needed but it doesn’t affect the cardiovascular system.

Asked how it was missed, Dr Bassford explained that the purpose of the X-ray was to make sure a line on a different lung was in a good position. He said that individuals have been “spoken to about it” and it has been a learning for the team.

To reduce the risk of it happening again they are looking to roll out X-ray machines that can automatically detect the issue. During the hearing he also apologised to Ms Plumb’s partner of 14 years, Gavin Hughes, that staff were not able to communicate better with him at two points in her treatment.

‘A lovely partner and mother’

Mr Hughes told the hearing that Ms Plumb was a “lovely partner and mother” to their three children now aged 9, 11 and 12. She loved her dog Maisie, a staffie, and loved going to Lanzarote, he said.

She was a home mum and “stood by her kids,” he added. “She liked just going out and doing things as long as it was something that involved the children.”

“At the end of the day she was always there for the children,” he said. He told the court that she started coughing and feeling unwell in mid-November, but thought it was a sick bug and would pass.

She did not try and get medical help despite his urgings, the inquest heard. After three weeks of her “not being right,” she started vomiting a lot and did not have any energy, he said.

The day she went to hospital she got worse and it was when his daughter told him she couldn’t breathe that he called 999, only to be told it would be a five and a half hour wait for an ambulance. He did not think she had this long.

They went themselves but A&E was “very busy” and he went up to the desk some 5-6 times to ask when Hannah would be seen, he said. “I did get very annoyed because it was dragging on and on, to me they could have seen her quicker than they did,” he added.

Dr Bassford said that after Ms Plumb was admitted to hospital and triaged then moved to the resuscitation ward to receive treatment. She had high scores on an early warning system and a chest drain was put in a few hours after she received scans.

She was then moved to intensive care and had a mortality risk of 29%, much higher than the threshold to be admitted to ICU. She received support for her blood pressure, breathing and kidney function before her death, the inquest heard.

An ECMO machine which breathes for people outside the lungs was considered and an enquiry made to another hospital, but ultimately it was not used. During treatment for the pneumothorax on 11 December Ms Plumb suffered a catastrophic cardiovascular collapse and died, he told the hearing.

‘Slow burner’ infection causes people to hit ‘cliff edge’

An independent post mortem report found that she was suffering from necrotising pneumonia which was affecting both lungs. There was destruction of lung tissue because of the infection, the autopsy found.

Three species of bacteria were present which can cause this infection, according to the report. This “serious and aggressive” chest infection went on to cause sepsis and multiple organ failure, it said.

There was no evidence to show that the hospital putting in a line had caused the pneumothorax, it added. Dr Bassford confirmed that this kind of infection is a “slow burner” and people get worse very quickly.

They hit a “cliff edge” and “nothing can be done to turn it around,” he added. Concluding the hearing, Mr Henry said he found that she had died of natural causes on the balance of probablities.

He made findings of fact including that Ms Plumb had symptoms of pneumonia for a number of weeks and declined treatment. She was seriously unwell when she was admitted to hospital and despite treatment got worse, and later suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

He said it was clear how huge a part Ms Plumb played in Mr Hughes’ life and of their family. He paid tribute to Mr Hughes, saying he had demonstrated a “remarkable amount of strength” and Hannah would be “really proud” of him.

He urged him to remember her as she lived – as a mum, a partner and someone who at the core of her being had this “unwavering aspect of her character – love.”

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