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Family 'not told' of Mum's paracetamol overdose

A hospital accused of failing to disclose that a 30-year-old mother of two had died after a paracetamol overdose given while she was in its care is under police investigation.

Merseyside police force is looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of Laura Higginson in 2017 after a post-mortem examination report revealed that she had suffered a staggered overdose of the drug while at Whiston Hospital, Merseyside. A new coroner has also been appointed to reinvestigate her death.

The family fear that the drug may have contributed to Ms Higginson’s death from liver failure, yet they say they learnt of the overdose only by chance.

Doctors spotted the overdose after two days and an anti-toxicity drug was administered, but Ms Higginson’s husband, Antony, said that neither his wife, nor the family, was told at the time. The family said they were not told in person, and nor was this mentioned on the death certificate. Her death was attributed by the initial coroner to sepsis and multiple organ failure. Ms Higginson’s children were aged seven and nine when she was admitted to Whiston Hospital in April 2017.

She suffered from the rare genetic condition, Gitelman syndrome. A side effect of this condition is being underweight, and she should have been given a reduced dose of painkillers. However, she was given the full adult dose intravenously. Medical records show that, when doctors realised the error, anti-toxicity drugs were given. The same records show that doctors were concerned that the overdose might have caused significant liver damage. Ms Higginson died 13 days after arriving in hospital.

The family’s MP, Derek Twigg, said the case raised questions about the accountability of coroners, and in particular the repeal in 2011 of a system that allowed for appeals. In a letter to the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, Mr Twigg said that he was “very concerned” about the treatment received by Ms Higginson, “that resulted in her overdose.” He said: “While grieving for his young wife, Mr Higginson discovered that the hospital had failed to disclose Laura had been given an overdose of paracetamol. “In what should have been a straightforward decision to hold an inquest, once new evidence had been presented to the coroner, Antony has had to fight every step of the way to secure one. “I was closely involved with the Hillsborough Families campaign to secure justice, I am appalled to see another case of a family struggle to be treated fairly by the justice system.”

Although taken safely by millions of people every day, paracetamol, ingested in the wrong quantities, is the most common cause of liver failure in Britain. A spokeswoman for Merseyside Police confirmed "an investigation is currently under way following the death of Laura Higginson at Whiston Hospital".

An NHS trust spokesperson said: “The trust offers its sincere condolences to the family of the late Mrs Higginson. Following her death, an immediate and thorough investigation was carried out. “The findings of independent clinical experts do not concur with the views of Mr Higginson and will be presented to the coroner during the inquest.”