A PRIVATE North-East hospital did not have potentially life-saving resuscitation equipment, an inquest into the death of a patient heard yesterday.

Barry Byers, 60, died a week after undergoing what should have been routine gallstone surgery at the Cleveland Nuffield Hospital, in Norton, Teesside.

The inquest heard that a portable ventilator - needed to resuscitate him when he suffered heart failure two days after surgery - was not available at the hospital, part of the Nuffield Hospitals group.

Anaesthetist Dr Petrina Mallinder told the inquest on Wednesday that she asked for the ventilator, plus certain heart drugs and a pump for administering them, but was told that the hospital did not have them.

Yesterday, Susan Tyman, Nuffield Hospitals' general manager for risk assessment, said the hospital did not think it appropriate to have the ventilator, because if one was needed, an ambulance carrying one would be requested.

But the ambulance which arrived to take Mr Byers to intensive care at Sunderland Royal Hospital, where he had a heart attack brought on by internal bleeding, was not carrying one.

Ms Tyman said: "In the event of the hospital being in that situation again, it made the purchase of a ventilator."

She said the pump needed was in another department and that advice had been sought, following Mr Byers' death, on whether the hospital should buy and stock the heart drugs.

Nurse Lynne Emerson, who looked after Mr Byers, of Heighington, near Darlington, the night after the operation, said she did not think his severely low blood pressure - a sign of internal bleeding - meant he was a medical emergency.

Jeremy Freedman, barrister for Mr Byers' widow Sandra, told Sunderland Coroner Derek Winter he could record a verdict of death by natural causes or misadventure contributed to by neglect if he felt there had been a "gross failure to provide or procure basic medical attention for someone in a dependent position".

Mr Winter will give his verdict on Tuesday.

Nuffield Hospitals issued a statement last night which said: "Nuffield Hospitals participated fully with the coroner's enquiries which ended today and awaits the coroner's verdict."