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Coroner criticises GP over child's treatment

A CORONER criticised a GPs’ surgery for the “unacceptable” treatment of a five-year-old girl who died after being refused an emergency appointment because she was five minutes late.

Asthma sufferer Ellie-May Clark was turned away from the appointment she had been given after being carried home from school wheezing.

Later that night, after not being able to see the GP, Dr Joanne Rowe, the child was rushed to hospital in an ambulance after an asthma attack but died shortly after, an inquest at Newport, South Wales, heard.

Dr Rowe had previously received a letter from a consultant warning that the youngster was at risk of “an episode of severe or life-threatening asthma”, the hearing heard.

Gwent senior coroner, Wendy James, heard that Ms Clark made a 5pm appointment on January 25, 2015. They arrived at the Grange Clinic in Newport five minutes late then waited in a queue at the reception desk for at least another five minutes.

After a brief conversation with Dr Rowe, a receptionist told Ms Clark she had breached the surgery’s 10-minute rule for lateness and should return the next day.

Miss Clark said she checked on her daughter frequently that evening and, when she found her in the throes of an attack, rang 999 immediately. She tried to give Ellie-May her inhaler but the child couldn’t take it.

Despite the letter, Dr Rowe did not ask the reason behind her emergency appointment or look into her medical notes before refusing to see her.

Giving evidence, the GP said when she received the call she had already called in her next patient.

The inquest heard Dr Rowe could have asked another doctor to see Ellie-May, or have seen her after her patient had left, and could have spoken to the doctor who arranged the emergency appointment for her.

When asked why she had not done so, she replied: “I don’t know. I was busy seeing to the other patient that I had with me.” 

She said she would have acted differently if she had seen Ellie-May’s notes or known the reason for the appointment.

The inquest also heard that the receptionist did not ask why Ellie-May was late, or about her condition, and did not give any advice on what to do if it worsened.

Receptionist, Ann Jones, said that Dr Rowe had turned away another patient earlier the same day. Dr Rowe received a warning from the General Medical Council.

The coroner, Wendy James, recorded a narrative conclusion and said it was “not acceptable” for Ellie-May to have been turned away without any clinical assessment or advice for what to do if her condition worsened.

She added: “Ellie-May Clark died of natural causes where the opportunity to provide potentially life-saving treatment was missed.”

After the ruling, Ellie May’s mother Shanice Clark, of Newport,  said that she was disappointed that the coroner had ruled out neglect in her verdict.

She said: “I will have to live with the fact that my little girl was sent home to die by a doctor who refused to see her because we were a few minutes late.

“I want justice for Ellie-May and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to another child somewhere else. I’m glad the doctor has apologised but I’ve waited three years for that.”