Lawyer Calls For Lessons To Be Learned After Trust Admits Second Opinion Could Have Saved His Life
The devastated family of a dad who died from blood poisoning on Christmas Day four years ago after a life-threatening illness was misdiagnosed as a groin strain has today received a substantial six figure settlement after hospital bosses admitted that a second opinion would almost certainly have saved his life.
In December 2007, 23-year-old Malcolm Drake, from Blurton in Stoke on Trent, developed an abscess following a perforation in his bowel, as a result of undiagnosed Crohn’s Disease, [a serious inflammation of the intestines].
He attended hospital just three day before Christmas but a locum GP working out of hours and on his FIRST day at the A&E Department of North Staffs University Hospital, misdiagnosed Malcolm’s condition as a simple muscle strain and told him to go home – despite him being in agony and unable to walk. This was also despite the fact Malcolm had previously tried to seek help at the same hospital a week earlier when he had also been sent home.
The father-of-one died three days later on Christmas Day – as the family were supposed to be celebrating his baby son’s first Christmas.
Stoke on Trent Primary Care Trust has since admitted that the locum GP they employed should have sought an immediate second opinion from a senior hospital doctor given this was Malcolm’s second attendance at A&E with the same symptoms. They also conceded that this should have led to Malcolm undergoing urgent surgery which would, in all likelihood, have saved his life.
Now, a medical law specialist from leading national firm Irwin Mitchell who represented the family says Malcolm’s tragic death raises serious questions as to why a GP was allowed to work in an A&E department without training or supervision and has urged the NHS to learn lessons to protect patient safety.
Following a full admission of liability, the Trust has agreed to pay the family a substantial six figure out of court settlement. As a large portion of the compensation provides for Malcolm’s son, Zak, who is only four years old, the settlement had to today be formally approved in the High Court in Birmingham today (1st September).
The family’s lawyer, Birmingham-based Lindsay Gibb from Irwin Mitchell, said: “This has been a tragic and heartbreaking case. For Malcolm’s family and his partner, Sophie, this battle for justice has not just been about the money but has also been about a quest for answers and an assurance from the Trust that the same thing will not be allowed to happen to anyone else in the future.
“The Trust has now written to the family offering a formal apology and today’s settlement, which will be held by the Court until Zak reaches the age of 18, will at least provide some financial redress and support to Malcolm’s family which he is no longer able to provide.
“Nothing though can turn back the clock and the family will now look to rebuild their shattered lives with the hope that, following Malcolm’s death, important lessons have been learned by both Stoke PCT and by the NHS as a whole.”
Malcolm’s fiancée, Sophie Lindop, commented: “I am relieved that our battle for justice is now over, but it doesn’t take away the anger I feel that Malcolm should still be alive today.
“Our little boy, Zak, is now four years old. He starts school in a few days time and this should have been a milestone in his life which he should have shared with both his parents. Sadly he will never remember his Daddy and has been robbed of all the time they should have had together.
“At times it’s been incredibly hard to cope but I’ve had to carry on for the sake of our son. Malcolm was a devoted father and, as Zak grows up, I will make sure he knows what a wonderful man he was.”
Malcolm, who worked for traffic management company, Blue Arrow, first became unwell in early November 2007.
He began suffering from diarrhoea and sickness together with severe stomach pains. Initially he was told it was a simple stomach bug but, in the following weeks, the symptoms became worse. He lost his appetite, developed unbearable pain in his abdomen and a swelling in his leg. He struggled to walk and was bent double in pain.
He was seen by his own GP and A&E clinicians on several occasions over a period of six weeks but each time was told he was suffering from a groin strain or muscular disorder.
On 22nd December 2007, he was rushed to Stoke’s University hospital by emergency ambulance. On this occasion, he was seen by Dr Aw, a locum GP, employed by the PCT, who was being allowed to work in the A&E department whilst facilities for an on-site minor injuries unit were established. It was his first day working at the hospital.
Recalling events that day, Sophie recalls: “Malcolm was in a terrible state. I had never seen him like this before and he was shouting out in pain. He had collapsed whilst at home alone and had to shuffle across the floor to call an ambulance. On the way to A&E he had to have gas and air as he was in so much pain.
“I just couldn’t believe it when the doctor repeated that it was probably just muscle strain and told Malcolm to get dressed and go home.
“We had no choice but to leave when the doctor insisted there was nothing seriously wrong and said he would not admit him. I had to get him a wheelchair to leave the hospital as he was too ill to even walk. I somehow managed to get him back home and struggled to get him out of the car. Once in the house he collapsed in the lounge.”
By Christmas Eve, Malcolm was unable to move from the sofa and was being constantly sick. A further phone call was made to the couple’s GP surgery but a doctor did not visit Malcolm at home.
On Christmas Day, at Malcolm’s insistence, Sophie took their baby son, Zak, who was then just 5 months old, to her mother’s for Christmas Dinner. “I really didn’t want to go, but Malcolm really wanted Zak to spend time with his grandparents. The whole time I was there I felt uneasy and I rang Malcolm repeatedly to make sure he was okay. When I phoned at 1.45pm I got no answer and I just knew something was wrong.”
Sophie returned home, accompanied by her father, to find Malcolm unresponsive. “I walked into the house and the Christmas tree lights and TV were still on. I found Malcolm on the sofa and I knew instantly that he was dead. I called 999 but my Dad had to take over as I was unable to speak.”
Sophie’s father desperately attempted to resuscitate Malcolm but when paramedics arrived they confirmed that he was dead.
A post mortem confirmed that Malcolm had died as a result of sepsis (blood poisoning) brought about by a peri-ileal abscess (bowel abscess) which had developed as a result of undiagnosed Crohn’s Disease and an inquest held in April 2010 recorded a narrative verdict.
Lindsay Gibb continued: “The system in place at the time meant that in effect it was ‘pot luck’ whether Malcolm was seen by a member of A&E staff or by the PCT’s locum GP. A decision was made by someone, that Malcolm had a ‘minor injury’ and so could be seen by the locum GP rather than hospital staff, even though it was clear that he was very unwell and had also attended the same A&E department just nine days earlier with the same symptoms.
“One of the findings of the Hospital Trust’s own investigation revealed that, had Malcolm been seen by any other doctor working in A&E that day, he would probably have been referred for senior review, particularly as we understand their protocol is that anyone who attends A&E with the same symptoms within a short period of time should be reviewed by a senior member of the department.
“It is not clear whether the GP in question was even aware of this protocol or had received any relevant training as to department’s practices. We very much hope that the Trust has now adopted new procedures to ensure that such basic failings will never be allowed to happen again and that the NHS as a whole will learn important lessons to protect patient safety.”