Teenager, 17, died from blood poisoning after four NHS medics shrugged off his illness as the flu

October 12, 2012 | by | 0 Comments

A teenager died of blood poisoning which could have been easily cured after four bungling medics repeatedly dismissed his illness – as flu, an inquest has heard.

Greg Bear, 17, would have had a 90 per cent chance of survival if he had been admitted to hospital after three doctors and two paramedics examined him six days before he died.

His mum Elizabeth begged a paramedic to take him to hospital after he coughed up blood – a key symptom of septicaemia – but was told he was not ill enough and suggested he took paracetamol.

Greg Bear, who died of blood poisoning six days after his illness was dismissed as

Greg Bear, who died of blood poisoning six days after his illness was dismissed as

Shockingly, the paramedic told her: “If I was to take every 17-year-old boy coughing up blood, the system would grind to a halt.”

The next day his condition worsened but when his mother phoned trainee GP Dr Christopher Cope for help he again shrugged off her concerns.

Hours later Mrs Bear dialled 999 and Greg was finally taken to Kings Mill Hospital in Nottingham on December 21, 2010, but died the following morning.

An inquest heard Greg, from Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottingham, first went to his GP on December 16 – the day after his 17th birthday – and was told he had a “nasty cold, possibly flu”.

Days later he developed “uncomplicated septicaemia” which would have been cured by a course of antibiotics, but was again wrongly diagnosed with flu.

Mrs Bear told the inquest, at Nottingham Coroners Court, how she had been left frustrated by paramedic Keith Knowles who examined Greg two days before he died.

She told the hearing: “I asked if he needed to go to hospital but he said ‘if I was to take every 17-year-old who was coughing up blood to hospital, the system would grind to a halt’.”

Kings Mill Hospital, in Nottinghamshere, where Greg was taken after falling ill

Kings Mill Hospital, in Nottinghamshere, where Greg was taken after falling ill

The day before he died Mrs Bear called Willowbrook Medical Practice but Dr Cope, who was newly qualified, failed to recognise Greg needed urgent medical attention.

She said: “Greg was red and had pain in his groin and bottom, he was burning up, he was coughing up blood and bile.

“He was in excruciating agony, his fingers were blue, his face was red and hot.

“We were told to keep giving him paracetamol and to come in if he got worse.

“I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere, I was left not knowing what to do.”

Recording a narrative verdict, deputy coroner for Nottinghamshire, Heidi Connor, said: “Greg died from septicaemia. It’s likely when his GP was first consulted, Greg was suffering only from a viral infection.

“From the 19th onwards Greg’s strength of character was such that he didn’t appear as unwell as he was.

“To Greg’s family there aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe what you have been through.

“As a family your dignity throughout these proceedings has been nothing short of inspirational.

“You have done your son proud, if he was anything like his parents, he must have been quite a lad.”

After the hearing Greg’s parents Gary and Elizabeth said they hoped lessons had been learned.

“Hopefully we can take something positive away from the tragic catalogue of errors which took our son away from us,” Gary said.

“We hope medical professionals can become better at spotting the early signs of sepsis so it can be spotted early and lives can be saved.

“We don’t want anyone to go through what we’ve been through.

“Something as simple as asking when someone last passed urine can save lives. If it’s a long time it’s more than likely they need to go to hospital.

“Greg was inspirational to his friends. He was well liked by everyone. He would literally do anything for anyone.”

Dr Jim Grey, medical director of East Midlands Ambulance Service said all staff have been given new guidance on recognising early signs of Sepsis.

He said: “Greg’s death has been very important in recognising the issue of Sepsis, as an entity, and how awareness can be raised to get better understanding of the condition, and management of it, it to avoid future preventable deaths.”

The inquest heard Dr Christopher Cope told Elizabeth Bear to bring Greg into the surgery but failed to record the information about his deteriorating condition.

Dr Cope, who is now fully qualified, told the inquest: “I didn’t appreciate the blue tinge to him while talking to Mrs Bear.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why.

“I deeply regret not picking that up.”

A post-mortem examination found Greg died of septicaemia, or blood poisoning, with his condition caused by him having bronchopneumonia (corr) and flu.

It also found the teenager hadn’t passed urine for four days, and that his kidneys were damaged due to the septicaemia.

Mrs Bear first contacted GP Dr Christopher Woods at Willowbrook Medical Practice on December 16, 2010.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Dr Woods said he had received a message stating she was concerned he “was burning up” and was “worried about swine flu”.

He said: “My initial concern was that this could it be something such as meningitis, so I asked did he have a rash, which Mrs Bear replied that he didn’t.

“Then she went on to explain that he didn’t have any pain in his neck. That reassured me that it was much less likely to be meningitis.”

When asked what training he had received in recognising signs of blood poisoning, Dr Woods said: “As a GP, specifically other than meningitis, relatively little.”

Community paramedic Keith Knowles visited Greg at home at around 11.30pm on December 19, 2010, and spent 35 minutes examining him.

Mr Knowles told the inquest he had seen tissues with “speckles” of blood in a bin near Greg.

He also said he had listened to the front and right side of Mr Bear’s chest, but hadn’t checked the back as was standard practice.

The inquest also heard evidence from another GP at Willowbrook, Dr Andrew Watts, who spoke with Mrs Bear on December 20, 2010, and examined Greg later that day.

He said a machine used to measure the pulse and oxygen levels in the blood had come back with no readings. Dr Watts said: “I thought it wasn’t working.”

When questioned by the family, Dr Watts admitted it was a “mistake to have made that assumption.”

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