The tragic tale of 1-year-old William Mead has led to calls for a shake-up of England’s NHS out-of-hours helpline and better training for GPs, after several doctors and NHS 111 advisers failed to realise the severity of the infant’s condition.
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Following a chest infection, William died of blood poisoning on Dec. 14, 2014 — after his mother phoned NHS 111 for assistance and was told “it’s nothing serious,” reported BBC News.
The report on William’s death said he might have lived if NHS 111 call handlers had been able to identify his condition and that if a medically trained professional had taken the final call they probably would have identified the infant’s cries as “a child in distress.” It also revealed that GPs had failed to make an accurate diagnosis of William’s condition and told Melissa Mead “not to worry,” despite several visits to the doctors’ surgery in the months before her son’s death.
Initially William’s cause of death was cited as natural causes but following a coroner’s inquest in June 2015 it was determined that he died from septicaemia (treatable blood poisoning), caused by a long-running chest infection.
The report highlighted other failures in the care given to William, finding that his GP had not recorded all of the relevant information in his notes, his symptoms had not been recognised as something more serious, the out-of-hours GP service had not had access to William’s primary care records and the pathway tool followed by NHS 111 advisers had been too basic to pick up “red-flag” warnings connected to sepsis.
“Had any of these different courses of action been taken, William would probably have survived,” stated the report.
Lindsey Scott, director of nursing with NHS England in the South West, said: “Everyone involved in this report is determined to make sure lessons are learned from William’s death, so other families don’t have to go through the same trauma.”
“None of this detracts from our profound regret at the loss of William. For that loss, on behalf of all NHS organisations involved, I would like to apologise publicly to Mr. and Mrs. Mead,” added Ms. Scott, who also said staff at the local NHS 111 service had since been given extra training to recognise when cases might be more complex and need referral to a medic.
Sepsis, known as a “silent killer” because it can be difficult to identify, is the second biggest cause of death after cardiovascular disease, killing over 35,000 people per year in the U.K. The body’s immune system goes into overdrive in response to infection, which can cause organ damage, shock and even death. The most common causes are lung and urinary tract infections.
Signs of sepsis, which can affect people of any age but is most common in the very young and the elderly, include fever, breathlessness, shivering and mottled or discoloured skin.
William Mead’s story is tragic and the outcome could have been so different if he had received the care he needed. The fact that a number of GPs failed to correctly diagnose his condition suggests that all NHS staff need to be trained to detect and treat sepsis.
Additionally there has to be a wider recognition given to a parent’s intuition. That parent may not be a qualified doctor but when it comes to your own child sometimes a gut feeling is just as important as years at medical school.