A pathologist found that the 57-year-old journalist, who had been taken to hospital on the afternoon of Christmas Day, died from a retroperitoneal haemorrhage – or abdominal bleeding.
But Nottingham coroners’ court heard evidence from a medical expert that his life could have been saved had he been moved to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital and received specialist treatment there.
George, who lived in the village of Walesby, North Nottinghamshire, had been running an antique toy business with his wife Karen, also a former journalist, since retiring in June 2010.
Ironically, while editor of the Guardian he had led a successful campaign to save the Accident and Emergency department at Bassetlaw, winning a Newspaper Society Award in 2003.
The inquest heard that after being admitted to the hospital on Christmas Day, George underwent a CT scan where an ‘unexplained mass’ was spotted between his kidney and spleen.
At about 9pm that evening, his condition deteriorated and he had an emergency operation but although staff were able to stabilise him, shortly after midnight he took a turn for the worst and died a short time later.
The inquest was told that the the on-call surgeon at Bassetlaw Hospital had tried to get George transferred to the Doncaster Royal Infirmary after the results of his CT scan so he could receive specialist care from a radiologist.
However the on-call radiologist at Doncaster was not trained in the relevant procedures, and was advised to transfer him to Sheffield’s Northern General instead.
After studying the CT results, Northern General consultant John Bottomley had agreed that George should be transferred there.
However by this time his condition had deteriorated to such an extent that he was not well enough to be moved.
Giving evidence on on behalf of John Bottomley, who has since emigrated to New Zealand, Sheffield’s Professor Peter Gaines was asked by the coroner if he thought George’s chances of survival would have improved had he been transferred sooner.
He replied: “On the balance of probability, if George had come to Sheffield promptly he could have survived. I would have expected that if the patient had been with us within a few hours then he could have survived.”
Recording a narrative verdict, deputy coroner for Nottinghamshire Heidi Connor said questions needed to be answered over the services provided between Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Trust and Sheffield NHS Trust.
She said: “There was no clear agreement in place to deal with this scenario. It’s clear to me that had there been a protocol for transferring patients, it could have made a difference in George’s case.”
Sewa Singh, medical director of Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “On behalf of the whole Trust, I sincerely apologise for the fact that we could not save his life.
“In emergencies like this, health professionals have to make what can be very difficult clinical decisions in circumstances where a patient’s condition may change extremely rapidly and our staff tried as hard as they could to provide the very best care to Mr Robinson.
“However, that cannot possibly be any comfort to Mr Robinson’s family and it is also very clear that there are serious lessons to learn from this tragedy.
“Once again, I apologise unreservedly to Mr Robinson’s family and would like to offer them the opportunity to meet with us so we can say sorry to them in person.”