Tragedy as Burnley grandmother dies after paramedics tried to lift her using 'unapproved' bath towel

Doreen Pilling
Doreen Pilling -Credit:Family photo

A much-loved grandma who suffered a major fracture when paramedics tried to lift her using a bath towel died weeks later as a result of her injuries.

An ambulance had been called to Doreen Pilling's home in Burnley on September 3 last year after she was found in the bathroom unable to move. Paramedics then used an "unapproved lifting method", in the form of a bath towel, but Doreen ended up slipping from the towel and landing on the floor, fracturing the femur in her right leg.

The 93-year-old was taken to the Royal Blackburn Hospital and eventually underwent an operation to repair her leg. On October 6 Doreen, a retired lecturer, was transferred to Pendle Community Hospital to recuperate which her family believe should never have happened.


Her condition continued to deteriorate and, in desperation, her family called an ambulance themselves to take her back to Blackburn. She died 10 days later.

Following an inquest into Doreen's death, held last month, Area Coroner Chris Long concluded: "Doreen Pilling died on 24 October 2023 at Royal Blackburn Hospital, Blackburn. An ambulance was called to assist Mrs Pilling at home as she was unable to mobilise.

"Mrs Pilling received a fracture of the right distal femur when the ambulance crew used an unapproved method to lift her resulting in an uncontrolled descent to the floor causing the fracture. She was taken to hospital where during a long stay she remained unwell with very limited mobility which contributed to the development of pneumonia from which she did not recover."

The coroner highlighted several similarities between Doreen's death and that of Peggy Clement, also from Burnley, who died at the Royal Blackburn Hospital in June 2022.

Peggy had also been sent to Pendle Community Hospital to recuperate after an operation to repair a fracture. Both women deteriorated while at Pendle and both died not long after being taken back to Blackburn by ambulance.

An inquest into Peggy's death heard from whistle-blower Dr Fozia Shah who said problems at Pendle had been endemic from the moment she started her job. Area Coroner Chris Long, who also presided over Doreen's inquest, has given the hospital trust 56 days to respond to his concerns over inaccurate nursing records, the failure to seek medical assistance for Peggy and a lack of learning from the incident.

Doreen's granddaughter Amanda Pugh has since been in contact with Peggy's granddaughter Rebecca. The pair have discussed their grandmothers' cases and have voiced concerns that, given Doreen died just last month, there has been little improvement within East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Some of Doreen's family's concerns related to what they described as "dire" record-keeping, a lack of nutrition and nurses failing to monitor her condition. "She wasn't getting enough to eat and it got to the point where we said 'if you don't ring an ambulance, we will' which we did," Amanda said.

Doreen with her family at Christmas
Doreen with her family at Christmas -Credit:Family photo

Amanda said that what happened to her grandma was "nothing short of disgusting". Doreen, who was born in Great Harwood and married to retired sheet metal worker Ken who died 15 years ago, was 93 when she passed away but was still living independently at her home in St Marys Gate.

Amanda said: "She lived in sheltered accommodation and made her own meals, washed, dressed. The day before she was admitted she was wandering around Costa and then had my little boy at hers to play.

"She went out weekly with my mum shopping and only used a walker to steady her."

The North West Ambulance Service has apologised to Doreen's family and said staff have been given further training "to ensure this... does not happen again".

A North West Ambulance Service spokesperson said, “We are truly sorry for the error in care that led to Mrs Pilling's injury before she was admitted to the hospital, and we accept the coroner's findings.

“The staff involved have been given further training to ensure this type of incident does not happen again. We offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Pilling’s family and apologise for the distress this incident has caused.”

Deputy Chief Nurse at East Lancashire Hospitals Trust, Jane Pemberton, apologised to the family and said the trust fully accepted the findings of the coroner. She said: "We apologise for any failings in the delivery of our care, which fell short of our usual standards.

"Although the coroner did not find that this played a role in Doreen's death we want to reassure the family that this has been a catalyst for improvement and we are all deeply sorry.

“We know we can’t change the outcome for Doreen but we are committed to improving patient care and are undertaking a comprehensive review to ensure we take on board any learnings.”