Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Tragic death of girl, 5, turned away by GP.
Calls have been made for a disciplinary panel to publish its findings into a GP who turned away a young girl who later died of an asthma attack.
Dr Joanne Rowe told Ellie-May Clark, five, and her mother, Shanice Clark, 25, from Newport, to return the next morning by because they were late.
Dr Rowe was given a warning by the General Medical Council (GMC) but a former president of the GMC, Sir Donald Irvine, has called for greater transparency in the case.
The GMC has apologised to the girl's family, saying it strives "to keep patients and their families fully informed" about investigations but failed to do so in this instance, adding that it would re-examine the rules around such cases. The body said it published the warning "on the online register for all patients and employers to see.”
Ellie-May's relatives have called for a criminal inquiry into the doctor's actions, saying she should be struck off the GP register.
Dr Rowe, 53, who lives in Cardiff was suspended on full pay for six months and has now moved to another practice in Cardiff. Her warning from the GMC will stay on her record for five years.
The health board's report said Ms Clark and Ellie-May arrived eight minutes late, contrary to the family's claim it was four minutes.
The confidential report said reception staff rang through to Dr Rowe, but she shouted back at a receptionist "something like 'No I'm not seeing her, she's late'."
Dr Rowe claimed she was with another patient when she turned them away but the health board checked computer records at the surgery which showed the doctor did not see any patients between 16:55 and 17:20 after a number of cancellations that day.
The Serious Concern report also said reception staff were afraid of Dr Rowe, who was known for "repeated angry outbursts.”
The report said: "There is a consensus that Dr Rowe is unapproachable and volatile. Many staff reported being afraid to challenge her decisions or seek a second opinion from one of the other doctors."
The report concludes that it was Dr Rowe's usual practice to refuse to see patients who arrived late for either routine or emergency appointments.
The CMC said her conduct risked "bringing the profession into disrepute and it must not be repeated" but did not go into any further detail.
Sir Donald said a number of recent GMC disciplinary hearings had also been heard in private with no clear explanation. He said: "I do think, where hearings are in private, the council has to be extremely careful that it publishes good reasons about whatever decision it comes to.
"I believe in transparency. This is a public record and I think that any relatives and any patients are entitled to have a very clear understanding of why the GMC reached the decisions it did. Where you have a reprimand which just appears out of the air, with no explanation as to why that is appropriate, its very unsatisfactory."
Ellie-May's grandmother, Brandi Clark, 43, said of the GP visit: "They were a few minutes late and Shanice even told the receptionist they wouldn't be there on time. But Dr Rowe sent them away. Her decision cost our gorgeous little girl her life."
Dr Rowe's practice had been warned by a paediatrician that Ellie-May was at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.
She was sent home from school early on 26 January 2015 because teachers were concerned her asthma was deteriorating.
Shanice Clark, made an emergency appointment at the Grange Clinic in Newport and was told to get there at 17:00. This gave her 25 minutes to arrange childcare for her two-month-old baby and ask a friend to give her a lift to the surgery a mile away.
Ms Clark claims her mobile phone was showing 17:04 when she arrived, but that she then had to queue at the reception desk.
After being turned away, Ms Clark took her daughter home and dialled 999 at 22:35 when she suffered a seizure and stopped breathing. She was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital, in Newport, by ambulance but later died.
Dr Rowe, who qualified in 1986, was a senior partner at The Grange Clinic for 22 years where she was in charge of child safeguarding at the practice.
An inquiry by the Aneurin Bevan health board, which controls the surgery, also found Dr Rowe had "failed to make any clinical assessment.”
The health board said it had referred the matter to the GMC, which investigated it "in accordance with their procedures.”
A GMC spokesman said that, if a case is raised by an NHS body, such as a health board or trust, it is currently required to report back only to that body.
However, if a patient, or a patient’s family requests an investigation, the GMC reports back to them or their representatives.
Chief executive of the GMC, Charlie Massey, said: "We strive to keep patients and their families fully informed about the progress of our investigations. We accept that this didn't happen in this case and we would like to apologise to the family for not doing so. We will contact the Clark family to discuss this further."
Mr Massey said a warning is issued when two case examiners decide it is appropriate and when the doctor has not disputed the facts.He added: "We publish the warning - detailing the shortcomings in the care provided - on the online register for all patients and employers to see."