A hospital trust that failed to spot a fatal heart defect in a six-month-old baby has been ordered to pay £15,000 to his family.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has criticised James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for serious failings in its care of Harris James, after staff missed multiple opportunities to save his life.
The ombudsman, the final arbiter in patient complaints against the NHS, also criticised the trust’s handling of its investigation into Harris’ death, saying it “was not open and accountable” and “failed to acknowledge and apologise for its mistakes in a timely manner”.
Staff also delayed telling his parents, Mary Gunns and Ryan James, that they could complain to the ombudsman.
In a statement, the parents said: “Our son was an affectionate and sweet little boy whose sudden death devastated our family.
“We won’t ever be able to forgive James Paget Hospital for its failings, nor will we forget the additional pain caused by its mishandling of our complaint.
“We hope that, following the ombudsman’s recommendations, the trust takes action to make sure this never happens again.”
In November 2015, Harris was referred to the hospital after a bout of gastroenteritis and weight loss. The GP noted his stomach was drawn inwards but this was not recorded by the trust.
Staff carried out blood and urine tests and an appointment in a month’s time was made with a dietitian. Just over a week later, Harris was taken by ambulance to the emergency department after he vomited and became limp.
A chest X-ray showed part of his lungs had filled with fluid and an electrocardiogram (ECG) showed abnormalities in his heart.
Doctors suspected pneumonia and gave him oxygen, antibiotics and fluids, but staff failed to ask a specialist about Harris’ heart abnormalities.
He was not seen by a consultant until the next morning, even though his condition was deteriorating. He later suffered a heart attack and died.
The ombudsman found the trust failed to correctly diagnose Harris’ heart defect, despite the fact that his medical history, symptoms, and poor response to treatment for pneumonia were clear signs something else was wrong.
The trust has formally apologised to his family and agreed to pay £15,000 in recognition of the injustice its failings caused.
Ombudsman Rob Behrens said: “This tragic case shows how important it is that people speak up when mistakes are made.
“It is crucial that the trust learns from its failures to make sure they are not repeated.”
Anna Hills, chief executive at James Paget University Hospitals Foundation Trust, said: “We have apologised to Harris’ family for the failings in his clinical care – and for the manner in which we communicated with them and handled their complaint when they raised concerns after his death.
“We have now implemented changes to ensure that, in the future, action is taken to ensure appropriate clinical escalation in similar situations and also that bereaved parents and relatives are treated with the compassion, sensitivity and respect they deserve.”