BY NIGEL BURNHAM
ACATHOLIC priest was thrown out of an intensive care unit after administering last rites to a dying Second World War veteran, it has been claimed.
Fr Andrew Stringfellow was interrogated and “lambasted” by a ward sister and then sent away from the high dependency unit at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, Greater Manchester, after being called in to visit Francis Hartley, 90, a devout Catholic from nearby Heaton Mersey.
The man’s son, Peter, 56, a former nurse, said his father died without being fully anointed by a priest from the church he had attended for 17 years and that his mother, Hilda, 93, was left “distraught” by the incident.
But Fr Stringfellow has challenged his version of events.
“Shortly before he passed away, the priest was saying prayers and anointing him with oil,” said Mr Hartley. “Then the nurse came over and, even though he was wearing a dog collar, asked him who he was — and then completely lambasted him for having the temerity to come on the ward. She said the hospital had its own curate.
“My parents were staunch Catholics, all they had left was their religion. It was very embarrassing for Fr Stringfellow. He came over to us and told us he couldn’t stay.” After his father’s death Mr Hartley met Stockport NHS Foundation Trust’s director of nursing, Jill Byrne, and Ann Barnes, director of operations. He said he later received apologies from them.
An inquest into Mr Hartley’s death last week revealed he had contracted the deadly superbug MRSA while in hospital for fractures and was left to go hungry because nurses had left him to feed himself even though he had chronic arthritis in his hands.
Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner John Pollard, said: “What I find incredible is that surgeons work their socks off and the whole thing is wasted because of a lack of basic nursing care.” A spokesman for the Trust said: “We have no record of any occasion where Mr Hartley’s parish priest was asked to leave our premises.
“Our only record of a conversation between a member of staff and Mr Hartley’s priest relates to advice given regarding control of infection.
“This is our normal procedure for visitors. We can confirm that Mr Francis Hartley received the last rites from a Catholic hospital chaplain on April 25, 2005.” Fr Stringfellow, 30, formerly of St Winifred’s church, Heaton Mersey, played down the incident, saying that he had completely administered the sacrament and that the nurse was “just doing her job” in asking him who he was.
He said: “I gave Frank the last rites, anointed his head with oil and as I was leaving I was stopped by a nursing sister who told me I should have identified myself before going on to the ward. She may have seemed aggressive to the family but I’m sure she was just doing her job.” In a letter to the Stockport Express, the priest said: “She would have been negligent not to have challenged me.” He said that the NHS, while being accountable, needed more support from the public.
Fr Stringfellow said: “Nurses do an incredible job under great strain and they should be more readily affirmed.”