A PREVIOUSLY ‘very well and independent gentleman’ who had given a ‘lifetime of service’ died in hospital in Whitehaven more than two weeks after falling down outside a doctor’s surgery in his hometown of Wetheral, an inquest has heard.

Christopher Conkey, 80, died in West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven on March 11, 2024, after failing to recover from two operations he had undergone at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) to treat a subdural haematoma (bleeding between the brain and its lining).

According to a statement submitted to Cockermouth Coroner’s Court by attendant paramedic Arran Boyes, Mr Conkey, a retired engineer, was seen to stumble and fall onto his right side outside the GP surgery at around midday on February 22, 2024.

He had initially been assisted by passers-by to sit on a chair outside, and was assessed by surgery staff.

Emergency services were called as Mr Conkey was struggling to bear his own weight.

Paramedics assessed Mr Conkey in the ambulance on the way the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle (CIC), and found him to be ‘alert, aware and coherent’, but ‘disappointed with himself for falling’.

He also complained of reduced mobility in his right arm, and showed indications of a fracture to his right femur.

Upon arrival at CIC at 12.48pm, the crew was told there was no room for Mr Conkey in A&E, and asked them to wait with Mr Conkey in the ambulance.

At 1.45pm the crew were told again there would be a ‘significant delay’ in admitting Mr Conkey to the hospital.

When Mr Conkey was admitted to A&E at 3.10pm, paramedics had noticed no deterioration in his condition.

Assistant Coroner for Cumbria, Dr Nicholas Shaw, said: “It is clearly disappointing he has to wait two and a half hours to get into casualty, but that seems to be unfortunately all too common at the moment, however the ambulance crew kept a close eye on him.” 

A statement by Dr Sarah Platt, critical care consultant at the RVI, said that after admission to Carlisle, doctors noticed Mr Conkey’s ‘slowly falling consciousness level and worsening confusional state’.

A CT scan showed a subdural haematoma, and Mr Conkey was rushed to the RVI to undergo surgery, arriving at around 8pm on February 23.

Initially, Mr Conkey was thought be ‘well’ after surgery, but overnight on February 26/27, his condition had deteriorated enough to return him to theatre for a second operation. 

Mr Conkey is noted to have ‘remained stable’ after the second operation, but suffered from delirium and disorientation. 

On March 3, his respiratory symptoms began to deteriorate, and clinicians judged that re-escalation of treatment would be unlikely to help Mr Conkey recover, and after discussions with his family, and consideration of his previous level of independence, the decision was taken to transfer Mr Conkey closer to his home in Cumbria. 

Dr Shaw commented: “The chances of recovery continued to fall away, and I quite understand, he’s not going to get back to his previous degree of independence, and the thought of possibly having to be dependent on others, maybe being in a wheelchair, live in a care home, I don't think he’d want that.” 

A statement submitted by his sister Glenys said that Mr Conkey had worked in civil engineering for the Carlisle rivers authority after graduating from Leeds University. 

He had then worked in Nigeria for 11 years from 1971, before returning in 1982 to undertake a master's degree. 

He worked in Thailand from 1984, until his retirement in 1990. 

He left a legacy to the Children of the Forest charity in Thailand, with which he had worked closely.

She said he will be ‘sadly and deeply missed’.

Dr Shaw said: “He was clearly a very intelligent man with a lifetime of service, particularly to other countries, where he could take his learning and use it to the benefit of mankind generally.” 

Mr Conkey had no medical history of note that would explain him falling, having been an ‘infrequent’ visitor to his GP, and so Dr Shaw ruled his death to be accidental.