A heartbroken mother is hoping a legal case into the circumstances of her son’s death will lead to new national protocols for UK hospitals when assessing unwell young children – and prevent more parents going through the devastation of losing their child.
Two-year-old Mus’ab Hamid died of pneumonia having been seen four times by medical professionals over a five day period, but not once was he sent to a specialist for further investigation.
His symptoms – a cold, cough, fluctuating temperature, abnormal breathing and a reluctance to eat and drink – were dismissed as a harmless virus affecting his nose and throat, when in fact he was becoming increasingly ill.
At an Inquest into his death, a coroner concluded that if he had been referred to paediatricians earlier, the true cause of Mus’ab’s illness would have been found, and he would likely have been saved.
He wrote to officials at Harrow Clinical Commissioning Group as a result, demanding changes in protocol to prevent further deaths.
Now, all children under-5 seen in an Urgent Care Centre under the London North West Healthcare NHS Trust who have been seen previously by doctors on two occasions over a five-day period, must be referred for paediatric review.
Calls for new protocols in Health Trusts nationwide to prevent further deaths
Mus’ab’s mother, Asha Abdullah and her lawyer Jodi Newton, of medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, are now calling for similar measures to be introduced nationwide.
“A part of me died with my son,” said Asha, 21, of Neasdon, North West London.
“He was my only child, my world and he died needlessly. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t do something to highlight what happened and to try and make changes so other families don’t have to go through the same loss.
“I just feel lost. It is heart-breaking to know that had things been done differently, he’d probably still be here. I knew something was really wrong. On the last occasion that I was sent home with him he was really sick. He had never been so ill, but I wasn’t told what to look out for.”
Solicitor Ms Newton, a specialist in handling medical negligence cases, says Mus’ab’s death has highlighted an issue of potential national concern.
“The only possible positive outcome to come from the heart-breaking loss of Mus’ab has been his mother’s determination to get answers and bring about changes in healthcare which will, without doubt, prevent more children dying,” she said.
“Given the coroner saw fit to raise this issue, and the Trust made such changes, I would think this protocol with regards to when children should be referred to specialists should be introduced across all health trusts.
“Our solicitors certainly hear of far too many cases in which children are repeatedly sent home without their symptoms being fully investigated by paediatricians. It is simply unacceptable to see young lives being put at risk, and lost, and changes should not be limited to a local level. Lives can be saved nationally.”
Boy was sent home on five occasions without being referred to specialists
Ms Abdullah had first taken Mus’ab to see a GP after he had been suffering from a fever, had a high temperature, was refusing to eat and had not been going to the toilet. She was advised to go to A&E at Northwick Park Hospital, in North West London, as his temperature was high and up to 39.7 at times.
He was diagnosed with a viral condition and sent home, but having shown no signs of improvement, Ms Abdullah returned to the GP three days later, when he was given Ibuprofen and Paracetamol and she was told to take him back to A&E if he didn’t improve.
As his condition worsened, with Mus’ab struggling with his breathing, having a fluctuating temperature again, still refusing to eat or drink and still having had only one wet nappy, his mother retuned to the A & E department at the same hospital where he had been seen three days earlier.
However, instead of being admitted to A&E, the nurse who triaged him at Northwick Park Hospital’s A & E department referred him to the Urgent Care Centre (UCC), which was run privately and employed locum GPs, despite having the appearance of being part of the NHS Hospital in which it was situated.
Despite having been seen on four occasions in a matter of days, the UCC’s locum doctor then decided he was not seriously ill, without testing his blood flow and dehydration levels – something a Serious Incident Investigation (SRI) at the Trust later concluded should have been done to ensure his heart rate had not dropped before he was sent home.
The following day, January 28, 2016, Ms Abdullah became so concerned at her son’s continued deterioration she dialled 111, but despite being rushed to hospital in an ambulance, he died of a cardiac arrest.
Care criticised by independent medical experts during inquest who said he could have been saved
Independent medical experts, who gave evidence at the Inquest, criticised the care provided, and said that had he been admitted to the A&E department, rather than sent to the UCC, his condition would have been more closely observed and the correct diagnosis would have been made.
They also said that had he been assessed by paediatricians the day before his death, he could have survived.
Legal action has been launched, alleging the failure to refer Mus’ab to paediatric A&E the day before he died was negligent.
It has also been alleged that Ms Abdullah was not given the right ‘safety net’ information when sent home with her son that day, with regards the need to bring him straight back to A&E the next morning if he had still failed to pass urine.
Also alleged is that had a urine challenge test been conducted at the hospital the day before he died, a correct diagnosis would have been made, making it possible to treat him and potentially save his life.
Senior Coroner Andrew Walker said the sequence of events highlighted ‘a lower threshold for admission for paediatric doctors’ in the hospital Emergency Department compared to the GPs at the Urgent Care Centre.
He said: “It is likely that had Mus’ab been admitted he would have been recognised as seriously unwell earlier and he would not have died when he did.”
Ms Abdullah added: “Nothing could ever compensate for the loss of my only child, but I felt I must take legal action, ask questions and hold people to account.
“When I took him to hospital I had no idea there might be a difference between the protocols followed by the Urgent Care Centre GPs and A&E paediatricians surrounding the admission of children to the hospital. I am sure other parents would be concerned by this.
“Mus’ab fought until he couldn’t fight any more but he was let down by the system. If he had been admitted at A&E instead of being sent to the urgent care centre things might have been different and I feel so wronged.”
Ms Newton added: “There is another issue in this case in that patients are unaware that facilities such as Urgent Care Centres are often privatised but housed in an NHS and A&E setting, and the care delivered is to a GP’s standard, and not to an A&E department’s standard of care. That is misleading and not something which sits comfortably with me.”
Mus’ab had not been vaccinated against Pneumococcal Bacterial infections at the time, something Ms Abdullah says she relayed to medical staff at the Urgent Care Centre, who later claimed they were unaware.
In a statement given to The Evening Standard newspaper, Dr Sally Johnson, medical director for Greenbrook Healthcare and Dr Charles Cayley, medical director from London North West Healthcare NHS Trust, said the new policy for children under-five had been in place since December 2016.
They added: “It is our aim and our wish to ensure that events such as these never happen again.”