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Woman, 25, died from meningitis, doctors ignored and left her to die
July 31, 2010
A desperate patient texted photos of a deadly rash spreading across her body to her mother as she lay dying on a hospital bed while being ignored by NHS doctors.
Critically ill Jo Dowling, 25, sent more than 40 pictures and messages to her mother and best friend as her life ebbed away.
Doctors ignored the rash and refused to believe she had blood poisoning caused by the meningitis bug, taking her off antibiotics and giving her painkillers instead.
Hours earlier, the young woman had been diagnosed by her family GP with suspected meningococcal septicaemia after developing a purple skin rash and low blood pressure.
She was rushed to Milton Keynes Hospital where A&E doctors rejected the diagnosis believing instead her illness was a mild infection caused by her cystic fibrosis.
But doctors abandoned Miss Dowling on an observation ward and gave her headache tablets and fluids as they failed to spot the purple rash spread over her arms, hands and legs.
As the hours passed, terrified Miss Dowling took photos of her rash on her mobile phone and sent them to her mum and best friend describing her condition as ‘getting worse’.
The meningitis bug left her in septic shock choking and coughing as fluid filled her lungs and she died four hours after her last text message – just 14 hours after arriving at hospital.
Her family yesterday accused the hospital of ‘neglect’ after an inquest at Milton Keynes Coroners’ Court heard doctors failed to spot she was suffering ‘blood poisoning shock’.
Coroner Tom Osborne criticised the hospital for a ‘communication breakdown’ that led to her death as tragically a simple dose of penicillin and antibiotics would have saved Miss Dowling’s life.
The inquest heard there were only two doctors on duty to cover the entire hospital the night she died last November.
Her devastated mother Sue Christie, 48, of Milton Keynes, a distribution worker, said: ‘Our doctor knew it was meningitis but when we got to hospital all the care seemed to stop.
‘They didn’t seem to know what they were meant to do or what meningococcal septicaemia was.
‘The hospital was saying it was just an infection. She had a lot of infections with cystic fibrosis but never a rash like this.
‘I saw her picture messages and the rash was really bad. You couldn’t miss them but the nurses did. I thought she was in hospital and with the best people.
‘She wasn’t given a chance and was left to die without being given any treatment.
‘It is so sad as Jo had got through everything with her cystic fibrosis and was such a strong girl.’
Jo was given penicillin and admitted to hospital at 3.25pm on November 23 last year with a letter from her GP Dr Nessan Carson diagnosing meningococcal septicaemia.
Dr Carson listed symptoms as low blood pressure, a raised pulse and a purple rash that would not disappear when pressed with a glass.
The inquest heard locum consultant Dr Bakhtawar Shah Khattak sent Jo for a CT Scan and lumber puncture and results were sent to micro-biology to determine which type of antibiotics to use.
When the scans showed no traces of meningitis Dr Chris Akubuine, physician in general medicine, refused to continue treating Jo’s symptoms with antibiotics.
Instead Dr Akubuine administered headache pills and fluids and left her in the Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) for overnight observations, the inquest heard.
Trainee GP Vivake Roddah failed to keep a written observation record but told the inquest he did not see the purple rash on Miss Dowling’s hands, arms and legs.
Five nurses also told the two day hearing they did not spot any rash on Jo’s body.
As her condition worsened Miss Dowling swapped 42 text messages with friends and her mother describing her illness and symptoms.
Just two hours after doctors ruled out meningitis she texted a friend to say ‘rash is getting worse’.
She took around ten photos of the purple rash on her legs, hands and arms and sent one to her mum complaining her condition was not improving.
Her death was pronounced at 5.20am on November 24 three hours after hospital logs show she was last checked on.
Her father Ivor Dowling, 52, a mechanic, said: ‘If she had been given antibiotics she would have survived. The hospital failed her.
‘The first doctor who saw my daughter did everything he was supposed to do. But after that these doctors and nurses failed to spot her failing vital signs.
‘They were obnoxious and arrogant. She was neglected.’
Delivering a narrative verdict on Wednesday Deputy Coroner Tom Osborne ruled Miss Dowling died from a combination of Meningococcal Septicaemia and Cystic Fibrosis.
He criticised hospital doctors for failing to realise she was in ‘blood poisoning shock’.
Mr Osborne said: ‘As a result of a breakdown in communication the antibiotics was not continued and resulted in lost opportunities to render further medical treatment.’
Miss Dowling, who was on a waiting list for a lung transplant, occasionally needed a wheelchair to get around after she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a baby.
She worked as a cashier at Great Mills and The Bag Shop, in Milton Keynes, and competed in junior cross country championships as a child.
Her best friend Jess Wales, 20, from Kent, who received the other messages, also suffered from cystic fibrosis and died in January shortly after a lung transplant.
A spokesman for Milton Keynes Hospital said: ‘Following Joanne’s unexpected death, the Trust conducted a comprehensive internal investigation to review her care and treatment.
‘The findings of the investigation were presented in detail at the inquest today and the recommendations are already being implemented.
‘The Trust fully accepts the verdict of the inquest.’
Former director Maggie Southcote-Want, 48, alleged a series of shocking incidents at the hospital at an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal in May.
Ms Southcote-Want claimed bodies were routinely dumped on the floor of the mortuary fridge and photographs of a car crash victim uploaded to websites, prompting a police inquiry.
She also claimed a locum doctor wrongly analysed dozens of breast cancer biopsies, a leading consultant was suspended for surgical blunders and two employees were caught having sex in the pharmacy during working hours.
The hospital denied the claims.
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