GPs sent home boy, 6, only for him to die of cancer

A YOUNG boy died of cancer after repeated visits to his GP with symptoms that should have alerted doctors something was seriously wrong, a report has found.

The boy was eventually seen at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The child’s mother complained to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) that doctors at their practice in Fife failed to refer her son to hospital despite repeated visits over three months.

Ombudsman Jim Martin ordered the practice to apologise to the boy’s parents after finding failings in his care.

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The boy, who was six at the time, visited his GP practice with symptoms including weight loss, fatigue, vomiting, nausea and bone pain between May and August 2011. He was seen by a number of GPs and had various tests carried out.

His condition did not improve and he was eventually seen at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee before being admitted to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh at the end of August. The child, referred to as Master A, was then diagnosed with the rare cancer Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

He received treatment for his cancer but died on 24 May, 2012.

The report pointed to NHS guidelines which said patients with the same symptoms should be referred urgently for investigation. The boy’s mother, Mrs C, complained that the practice failed to explore his symptoms further. She also said that the practice should have referred him to a specialist sooner.

“During the period 11 June to 24 August 2011, Master A had 13 attendances/contacts at the practice,” the report said.

“In addition, from late May to late August 2011, NHS 24 were contacted on four occasions regarding Master A’s health and he had two attendances at hospital, facts of which the practice would have been aware.

“This was a total of 19 attendances at healthcare establishments in a young boy who had rarely attended the practice in the six years since his birth.”

When the practice did make a referral to hospital, it was marked only as “routine” and the boy’s mother was forced to phone the clinic to get an earlier appointment. The practice also failed to carry out follow-up blood tests despite results suggesting cancer may be present.

It was “noted that Master A’s oncologist stated clearly that his treatment was curative and that he fully expected Master A to have a good prognosis,” the report said.

“She said Master A was unfortunately one of a minority group of patients who did not respond to treatment as expected.”

The ombudsman upheld the family’s complaint that the practice failed to provide Master A with appropriate treatment. He ordered the practice to apologise to the family and provide evidence that doctors had learned from the failures identified by the report.

Dr Stella-Anne Clarke, NHS Fife medical director for primary care, said: “NHS Fife takes all complaints seriously and findings and recommendations made by the SPSO in every case are always shared so that lessons can be learned by all.”