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Family’s six-year fight for apology after mother's death

A heartbroken family is still looking for answers after a 31-year-old mother died following hospital treatment.


Laura Elwell, from the Ashmore area of Wolverhampton, died just days after being transferred from New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton to Coventry’s University Hospital back in 2014.

She left behind two young children, one being only seven months old at the time, and her fiancé Steve Smalley. Her family, including Mr Smalley and her parents, have been in a six-year battle to find answers and have said they are still waiting on an apology from the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust (RWT), which runs New Cross.

Ms Elwell was initially admitted to hospital in May 2014 with severe abdominal pain and vomiting and was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. She was discharged two-and-a-half weeks later only to be re-admitted in June and again in July 2014.

CT imaging showed she had severe pancreatic necrosis, a treatable condition. But the family alleged there were a number of shortcomings in the care provided to Ms Elwell, including a failure to ensure adequate drainage of the infection, premature discharge from hospital, failing to properly manage her nutritional intake during hospital admissions and failing to ensure she was transferred for the specialist care she needed quickly.

By the time Ms Elwell was transferred to University Hospital in August 2014, she was in such a poor condition she could not undergo the surgery she required. It was there the family were told she had developed sepsis and was unlikely to survive.

The family attended a meeting at New Cross Hospital in the months following her death but said they were left with more questions than answers.

They initially pursued their complaint with the Parliamentary Ombudsman, whose report raised a number of concerns about the treatment and management of Ms Elwell during her hospital admissions between May and August 2014.

Laura and Steven

Laura’s father, David Elwell, from Dudley, and Mr Smalley sought to bring a claim against RWT – and although the trust denied liability for causing Ms Elwell’s death it settled the case. However, the family say they are still waiting for a formal apology.

They have been working with lawyers Shoosmiths’ in Birmingham in their case. Kishma Bolaji, principal associate at the firm, said: “The loss of a loved one, especially someone so young, is extremely painful. Where that loss is thought to have been the result of failures and poor management in hospital, as is continued to be alleged by the family, coping with that loss and being able to move forward is all the more difficult.

“Openness and honesty on the part of the trust at the earliest opportunity is vital. Although resolution of the litigation has now been reached, that is no substitute for the comfort and sense of justice that a warranted admission and an apology gives to a grieving family, something this family has been denied.”

A spokesperson for RWT said: “Laura received treatment for acute pancreatitis at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, from May 2014. Sadly, Laura died in August 2014.

“Previously, the trust and the family’s advisors had obtained advice from independent experts who had reached differing opinions as to the standard of care that Laura had received. Notwithstanding these differences, the parties engaged in mediation and, subsequently, a settlement was agreed which was approved by the court on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.

“We recognise that this has been a difficult time for the family and we would like to reiterate our condolences.”

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